Former Gov. Roy Barnes on Thursday said that any candidate for statewide office should be required to release seven years of complete tax returns and called for a “no cup of coffee rule” for lobbyists dealing with elected officials.
At a news conference on the steps of the Capitol, Barnes unveiled his plans for ethics reform.
“Ladies and gentlemen, behind me stands the people’s house,” Barnes said. “The Gold Dome should shine as a beacon of honesty and openness, but we all know that has not been the case. It’s been the home of secret, inside deals.”
The former governor, a Democrat, now seeking a return to office, presented several ideas clearly aimed at his Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal. Barnes’ proposal to require that statewide candidates release “complete” tax returns, including all schedules and amendments, is a continuation of the candidates’ squabble over Deal’s refusal to release details of his tax records.
Barnes has posted 25 years of complete tax records to his website and called on all other candidates to do the same. Last week Deal responded with 30 years of records, including federal 1040 forms, but not more detailed schedules that could shed light on his private business dealings.
Barnes also said he would prohibit any executive branch employee from meeting privately with a state or federal elected official about the official’s personal business — another shot at Deal.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2009 that Deal personally intervened with state officials in an attempt to preserve a state program that earned his business $300,000 a year. The report led to a congressional investigation that found Deal likely violated U.S. House and federal government ethics rules but Deal resigned from Congress before a final determination was made. The AJC also reported in July that a federal grand jury had subpoenaed records and testimony from Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham about a meeting Graham had with Deal in 2009.
Deal has denied any wrongdoing and his attorney said Deal has been told he is not a subject or target of a federal investigation.
Barnes said his ideas were not “inspired” by Deal, but that Deal’s situation was a factor.
“Certainly, Deal is a good example of why we need the law,” Barnes said.
Barnes’ plan would also:
Make the General Assembly subject to the state Open Records Act, to which they are now exempt.
Eliminate all gifts, including meals, from lobbyists and vendors to lawmakers.
Require all state elected officials to give more detailed campaign finance disclosures in non-election years.
Require state vendors who earn more than $10,000 in non-salary earnings from the state to register as vendor lobbyists.
The General Assembly last year passed an ethics reform bill that increased disclosure and tightened reporting requirements for lobbyists and legislators. It also increased fees and fines for violators.
Barnes said that was a good start but that more was needed. But he also acknowledged that getting lawmakers to go along with his plan is a long-shot.
Republicans, however, said Barnes did little when he was governor to address ethics and that since the GOP took over earlier this decade the state’s ranking on ethics by an independent watchdog has improved from 39th to 7th.
“Roy Barnes had a disastrous record on ethics and ignored much-needed reforms as governor,” state GOP chairwoman Sue Everhart said.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said Deal in March said he would implement a gift ban for executive branch employees.
Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, said the Legislature just passed “sweeping” ethics reforms that are the envy of the nation. He said he looked at the idea of a ban on gifts from lobbyists and said his research in other states showed that those bans “lead to underground lobbying and non-reporting.”
“This is political; it’s a political gimmick,” Wilkinson said.
But Barnes’ campaign countered that during his first term, in 1999, Barnes signed into law legislation that expanded the state’s Open Records Act and rules governing open public meetings. His first act as governor, too, was to sign an order banning lobbyist gifts to employees and he voluntarily put his private financial interests into a blind trust when elected.