Ethics fight shows poor governance of those who govern Georgia

After Nathan Deal was elected governor last year, his team was understandably eager to change the conversation from the ethics allegations that dogged his campaign to how he would govern.

Months later, the talk surrounding Deal has come full circle. The state ethics agency’s director, Stacey Kalberman, claims her salary was slashed and her deputy’s job eliminated not because of budget constraints, but because they had just prepared subpoenas for their inquiry into Deal’s campaign spending.

Absent any new revelations, the story is a matter of he said, she said, with obvious motivations for each side. The benefit of the doubt for many Georgians will lie with Kalberman, given the curious timing of the budget concerns and the sheer number of complaints against Deal dating back to his tenure in Congress.

The best argument in Deal’s favor may be that going after Kalberman — and turning an under-the-radar investigation into a full-blown media frenzy — would be an awfully dumb way for the agency’s board to try to protect the governor.

But whatever this episode says about Deal, it says far more about how this state is governed. Or, perhaps more precisely, how this state’s government governs itself.

Forget Deal for a moment. A proximate cause of the ethics agency’s budget problems was a new law requiring it to send notices by certified mail to candidates and office holders delinquent in their campaign filings. The notices are now 17 times as expensive to send as before, an increased cost of thousands of dollars for which the Legislature did not fully account when setting the ethics agency’s budget.

Not only did legislators fail to account fully for the cost of the new law, but they cut the ethics agency’s budget.

The fact that many state agencies faced budget cuts might be some solace, had legislators not voted to increase their own budgets by a cumulative $3.2 million over fiscal 2011 — a 9 percent increase that’s triple the entire budget for the ethics agency.

As with the flap over Kalberman’s salary cut-turned-resignation, one need not look too far for motivation. Forty-seven legislators — more than one in five members of the General Assembly — are among the thousands of delinquent filers across Georgia whom the agency tries to track. Those 47 owed a collective $11,000 in fines as recently as early May, just weeks after they finalized the budget.

Our legislators have staked their ethics reputations on a system that relies more heavily on transparency than on limitations (on, for example, gifts from lobbyists). There’s a good argument to be made for that tack: Better to disclose everything and let the voters decide what’s important.

The problem is that those charged with enforcing the transparency are quite transparently being undermined — by the very people they’re supposed to monitor.

When the ethics agency’s board decides to fire its No. 2 staffer and slash its No. 1’s salary because the agency’s budget for mailings was too small, there’s a problem — regardless of whom those staffers were investigating.

I’ll put my desire to cut public spending up against anyone’s, but governing those who govern us is an essential part of our representative system.

I’ve often wondered how our government, both federal and state, might operate if legislators and regulators scrutinized their colleagues’ dealings the way they do the rest of ours. My hunch is we’d finally end up with the smaller government many of those same legislators have been promising us for so long.

In the meantime, I’d settle for simply ensuring they’re subjected to what scrutiny they are supposed to face.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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81 comments Add your comment

Tyler Durden

June 23rd, 2011
6:12 am

For once, here’s an opinion of Kyle’s with which I agree 100%.

This move totally destroys any perception that Deal and his team are serious about open, honest governance.

Jefferson

June 23rd, 2011
6:37 am

Sounds like the GOP gov’t of Ga, has you worried about rule breakers too. Where there is smoke there is fire, don’t cha know.

GW

June 23rd, 2011
6:40 am

Well said Kyle. Now, what to do about this quite transparent problem. Any ideas. Whom out there has the ability to investigate and report and at least try to restore some of that undermined transparency.

DeborahinAthens

June 23rd, 2011
6:53 am

No, Kyle, let’s don’t “forget Deal”! All of you right-wingers, knew he was dishonest and ethically challenged, yet you all chose to vote for him rather than the better candidate because you all have more interest in getting your ideology (get rid of a woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body,prevent civil unions, prevent liquor sales on Sunday) brought down upon us all, whether we agree with your philosophy or not. This irrational preference for selecting candidates like Deal and (gag a maggot) Santorum and Bachmann is why this sixty year old, life long Republican became a Democrat when Dubya the dumb (”I won’t be out-Jesused again”) ran for office and the religious right got him elected. We cannot afford another go around of the likes of Dubya. And we most likely won’t survive Nathan Deal. Can’t you see what the Taliban did in Afghanistan? Do you really want a theocracy?

Ayn Rant

June 23rd, 2011
7:58 am

Good post, Kyle! Try not to let the matter be glossed over and forgotten.

What exactly do state legislators do that merits a 9% increase in their budget? Does cutting back education and government services, running off farm workers, and abolishing the legislative ethics agency really add financial burden to the legislative “process”?

Uncle Billy

June 23rd, 2011
8:09 am

Deal is a piker compared to Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida. When he was CEO of Columbia HCA the IRS and HHS launched a criminal investigation of that company. He was forced to resign. The company pled guilty to 14 felonies and paid more than $900 million in fines on charges of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid. The people of Florida have a really keen sense of humor. Deal’s deal with the state on wrecked cars was penny ante by comparison.
Unfortunately people sometime run for public office for very poor reasons or find the temptation to profit irresistible. More about the current ethics uproar will be known when and if the Ethics Commission issues the subpoenas and continues the investigation.

ByteMe

June 23rd, 2011
8:34 am

Must be hard, partisan-nuts, to look at the GOP-led government and think “Oh my God, they’re acting just like I said the Democrats acted!”

And you really thought there were two parties in this state? Nope, only the party of “me, my, mine”. It starts with the voters who are repeat offenders in this mess.

BW

June 23rd, 2011
8:39 am

Kyle

You actually think either party is serious about ethics?

Jefferson

June 23rd, 2011
8:42 am

I’ll bet Deal’s financial troubles will be gone by the time he leaves Atlanta. Look how Sonny’s wealth grew while in Office, he’s still making money on land deals and such that were aided by gov’t business.

Good Grief

June 23rd, 2011
8:44 am

Any other time, Deal would never have been elected. The Democrats in this state screwed up by running Roy Barnes again. Neither was right for Georgia, but we already knew what we were getting with Barnes, and that cost him.

Kyle, one of our biggest problems with political corruption is that we allow Congressmen to have lifetime appoints, so long as they are re-elected. I was sickened during the 2008 Presidential campaign as Joe Biden, a Senator of 30 years, mocked John McCain for having been in office for too long and accomplishing too little. McCain had been a Senator for 27 years.

If you institute term limits, you can being eliminating corruption. The way the news and election cycles run in this day and age, an elected member of the House only serves half their term, and then they have to start campaigning again.

I’d like to see every elected position limited to two 4-year terms, and campaigning be limited to only 60 days prior to an election.

Carlosgvv

June 23rd, 2011
8:49 am

In an ideal world, our politicians would concentrate on doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Unfortunately, this is the real world and the only people they truly care about are themselves. So, ethics in politics becomes nothing more than a sick oxymorn in Georgia.

Lee

June 23rd, 2011
8:56 am

Enough said.

retired early

June 23rd, 2011
9:03 am

Deborah @ 6:53

Once again, excellent post. The GOP, thanks to Karl Rowe has been reduced to a party more concerned about controlling our individual choices than in good governance. Once the “stop killing unborn babys” battle cry became their top priority….nothing else matters…not even saving the country from financial ruin. I blame Mr Rowe because “W” was too simple minded to know he was Karl’s puppet….and it worked perfectly…simple minded president, attracted simple minded voters.

old timer

June 23rd, 2011
9:05 am

Deb in Athens….The other candidate was not “better”. Some of us probably held our nose as we voted.
Kyle well said. Maybe journalists can help with this problem, since the state cannot seem to get its house in order.

MrLiberty

June 23rd, 2011
9:06 am

Libertarians have always been making the argument that government is comprised of nothing more than men and women. They are not superhuman and nothing about their election emparts anything special to impact their morality, their conscience, etc. That is why government MUST be as small as possible with as little money available to them as possible. There is absolutely no reason why private businesses, individuals, groups, etc. cannot provide the services needed in society that government now provides (poorly). Those folks, competing in a marketplace free of the coercive power of government laws, regulations, and ultimately guns, can rid us of this ethics problem. A private business that doesn’t treat its customers right fails. A private business that must earn its money through voluntary means can be shut down by the simple withdrawl of consent. The government steals everything it wants, backs that up with guns and prisons, and allows no competition that might threaten its existence. How is that so hard to understand.

Those that actually believe that government can be made to work right and ethically do not fundamentally understand the nature of government. Government is force – nothing more. If it actually thought it could do what it does without the guns, laws, prisons, regulations, etc. it would, but it knows it would lose to the free associations of individuals.

If we don’t take their power away, things are never going to change.

ByteMe

June 23rd, 2011
9:06 am

If you institute term limits, you can being eliminating corruption.

Or you just accelerate their timelines. Depends on the level of greedy sociopathy in the politician.

jconservative

June 23rd, 2011
9:07 am

“In the meantime, I’d settle for simply ensuring they’re subjected to what scrutiny they are supposed to face.”

Interesting sentence Kyle. Scrutiny is an interesting word. But there is always, at any level of government, a tendency for office holders to try and work in the shade, not out in the sunshine.
When one is out in the sunshine it can get real warm quickly. So the shade holds attraction.

The Founding Fathers knew this and protected the institution they knew had the ability to provide scrutiny. The press.

The First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Note the protection of the press – “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom…of the press;…”

This column is an example of what the First Amendment framers had in mind when they wrote the words.

And it is the duty of the American voter to insure that the freedom of the press is not eroded. And that is a real danger as all First Amendment freedoms are constantly under attack.

As Doctor Franklin noted ” A Republic, if you can keep it…”

@@

June 23rd, 2011
9:33 am

I didn’t put my stamp of voter’s approval on Deal. He helped create the shortfall with his snail-mail legislation and now wants to use it as an excuse to bypass ethics?

Chuck Doberman

June 23rd, 2011
9:35 am

Gee… Ya think? Uncle Billy is right in his comparison of Scott and Deal, but Ga. voters seem to be doing their utmost to emulate Fla in many respects, not just governor. A stupid and dangerous motivation… all the more reason we will rush to accomplish this. Fla. is a black-hole economically and ethically with little or no hope of changing that fact, but since it’s republicans leading the way into that black hole we Georgians are anxious and eager to join them. We closed our eyes and noses when we voted this shuyster in… why would he not expect us to keep them closed.

Chuck Doberman

June 23rd, 2011
9:40 am

“Don’t forget the corrupt negros incharge of downtown Atlanta”

A brilliant post indeed. Deal was not corrupt until he had the chance to observe “those people” in action downtown. Yeah, sure, and you’re not ignorant either.

Something tells me “those people” are not the ones who voted for Deal in the last election. More likely you are.

Good Grief

June 23rd, 2011
9:46 am

ByteMe @ 9:06 – Agreed. There are some members of Congress that simply cannot be salvaged. Sadly, they keep getting re-elected. I’ve said before that you’ll hear people say that we should just vote out all incumbents, and while I can certainly understand that point of view, the person making that comment will then say “Except my guy. My guy is the exception to the rule.” Well, you can only vote for your guy. As much as I would’ve loved to cast a vote against Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Alan Grayson, or Michelle Bachmann, I can’t because I don’t live in their state/district. Look at the last election. Pelosi was not held in high esteem in the rest of the nation, but her district overwhelmingly re-elected her.

Obozonomics

June 23rd, 2011
9:49 am

DeborahinAthens;
Wow please stop your ignorance is showing, you believe that Democrats are honest and sincere? The GOP does NOT take away your right to kill babies; they just don’t want their tax dollars paying for it, nothing wrong there, except killing babies. Who cares about Sunday liquor sales, except a true alcoholic, but then again since it seems to bother you the bill has passed and been signed to get sales on Sunday. Now it is up to you town\county to make the decision. Again with the Dubya loser speak, then Obozo and his band of clowns should he hated even more by you, they have kept and expanded on the Bush policies that you complain about. How come you hate Bush and love Obozo? Obozo is Bush #2, or did you forget the war Obozo started?

Olderandwiser49

June 23rd, 2011
9:55 am

Unfortunately, both here and in Washington,DC. we have the inmates guarding the prisoners. Ethics committees cannot stand in judgment of others when they are often just as unethical as those they are investigating. Every year, US Congressmen and members of the State Legislature commit crimes that would land an ordinary citizen in prison, or at least, in a courtroom. In the case of our politicians, however, they MIGHT be censured (i.e. told by their colleagues that they were bad boys or girls, and that if they did it again, they might have to spend an hour in the time-out chair). Oh, the horror of this cruel and unusual punishment! Quick, someone call the ACLU. Such atrocious punishment practices must be stopped, or it will lead us back to slavery!! Sorry about that. Just had a Shirley Franklin moment.

Anyway, for there to be any true ethics reviews in State or Federal politics, the commission must be taken out of the control of politicians, and answerable only to the people. They should have the ability to issue supoenas, prepare indictments, and pursue the removal, and where necessary, the prosecution of a corrupt politician. The old adage, “Physician, heal thyself,” simply won’t work in the “above the law” world of politics.

Pee Wee

June 23rd, 2011
9:57 am

This type of thing is the very reason folks classify politicians in the same group as used car salesmen and Lawyers. Hmmmm….. wait a minute, come to think of it-most politicians are lawyers and used car salesmen.

UIC

June 23rd, 2011
10:03 am

Mr. Liberty @ 9:06

Gov’t is bad until it is not. Please keep in mind that all of the problems in America today emanate from the wizards of Wall St. who were so high on the drug of money that they successfully repealed and/or stopped before it ever started, the regulation of derivative products in the financial industry. They convinced regulators and more importantly, the elected officials, both R and D, that they understood the risks. Not only did they not understand the risks associated with the product, they didn’t even know how much was at stake. Were gov’t officials complicit…sure, because they weren’t doing what they should have been doing as gov’t regulators.

I’m for a smaller gov’t as much as anyone, except when the mistakes of a few have a devastating effect on the many. And let me assure you, the ones that created the problem realized the least effect; they’d already cashed their checks.

AmVet

June 23rd, 2011
10:04 am

Good article, Kyle. Thanks for at least trying to broach the subject of entrenched hyper-corruption in the Georgia GOP.

TruthbeGone, is it difficult typing while peering out through those two little holes in your hooded sheet?

kevin

June 23rd, 2011
10:13 am

Nathan deal was a known crook prior to being elected. Way to go, GA!

Truthbe,

You’re a racist jerk. Get a life.

DieCornFarmers

June 23rd, 2011
10:14 am

Jesus christ…..just because someone criticizes Republicans doesn’t automatically mean they’re a democrat. Some of us hate both idiotic parties equally.

Pee Wee

June 23rd, 2011
10:14 am

Just out of curousity, does anyone have info on the percentage or numbers of our state politicians who are also Lawyers.

kevin

June 23rd, 2011
10:15 am

Kyle,

Interesting that the AJC does not let cursing on it’s blogs, but blatant racist terms like “negro” are considered fine. Way to have your prioritites straight!

AmVet

June 23rd, 2011
10:20 am

kevin, that particular miscreant has a long history of racism and bigotry on these blogs.

At least he cleaned up his act and didn’t use the other n word that he probably prefers…

Halftrack

June 23rd, 2011
10:20 am

Kyle; Good Post – - – all leadership needs to be held accountable. What about our AG; is he acting to eliminate corruption?

Junior Samples

June 23rd, 2011
10:27 am

I’ll bet a dollar that the good people of Georgia vote for him again…

ByteMe

June 23rd, 2011
10:33 am

I’ll bet a dollar that the good people of Georgia vote for him again…

Sucker’s bet. No one strong enough with an (R) after their name will run against him (no matter how ethically challenged he is), because it’s a good way to lose the party you want to curry favor with. And unless the (D) party gets its act together and builds a better bench, you’ll keep seeing reruns from the past that can’t beat an (R) in a statewide race.

Alan Moore

June 23rd, 2011
10:34 am

WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?

kevin

June 23rd, 2011
10:36 am

AmVet,

I hear you. I suppose I am just baffled that cursing is considered tolerable but overtly racist terms are okay. That’s a$$-backwards.

THE "REAL" TRUTH

June 23rd, 2011
10:52 am

@Kyle, wow, you wrote that?? What’s crazier is I agree with you, 100%. I know a lot of die hard Repubs in this state would NEVER have voted for Barnes (GA is a RED state, to be sure), but to vote in a KNOWN and scandalous former congreeman is WORSE. He’s now at the helm and all that is happening to this state is done by his hand and the empowerment of the citizen’s of GA who voted for him.

That’s one reason why we moved. Even under Sonny, my wife and I saw the path Georgia was on. Jobs under the Republican led state legislature, GONE. Foreclosures, UP. Woes still will continue…..

MrLiberty

June 23rd, 2011
10:59 am

UIC – As long as were ‘please keeping things in mind”, please also keep in mind that all of the money that fuels Wall Street excesses, fuels the banking corruption, fuels the credit defaul swaps, etc. originated with the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve was created by congress. It is unconstitutional but nobody cares. It was a complete abdication of the money coining responsiblity of congress. The Federal Reserve is a supposedly private entity that funds the excesses of DC and allows deficit spending, etc. while destroying the value of the dollar and savings. The Fed creates money out of thin air that it lends to member banks. The money is generally backed by Treasury Bills (debt the US citizens owe to whomever buys them) and the banks and others get to borrow at whatever rate the Fed sets. For most of the bubble (really, every bubble we have had since 1913), the Fed set the rates below market and now they are at basically 0%. So while you and I can’t get but a percent or 2 for our savings, the banks no longer need to encourage our savings and can borrow for nothing. Our savings then lose value through inflation (all the money that is printed), and we invest in places like Wall Street, houses, etc. in order to hopefully find some value for our money that will stay ahead of the printing presses. Thus the bubble in Wall Street, the huge profits for Wall Street, etc. All the doing of government and their enablers at the Fed.

Not a single free market thing about it.

There is nothing wrong with blaming Wall Street for being corrupt scum as well as the banking industry. But they would not have had that power if government hadn’t forced us to use these worthless Federal Reserve Notes that they print out of thin air to line the pockets of their friends.

www(dot)mises(dot)com has all the information you need to completely understand why government actually IS the problem.

DixieDemons

June 23rd, 2011
11:02 am

You put a meth addict in charge of the pharmacy and then wonder where all of the medicine went…….. You put the fat lady in charge of the bakery then wonder what happened to all of the donuts…… You put rapacious republicans in charge our state and wonder where all of the money and jobs went………. We truly have become a nation of dim-wits and dumb a$$es.

TruthBe

June 23rd, 2011
11:11 am

DixieDemons, Don’t forget the democrats are just as responsible as the republicans. Most of the politicans are corrupt and dishonest today. Why? Because they can’t handle a real job. Look at the Obamas for example.

The Snark

June 23rd, 2011
11:12 am

PEE WEE:

The number of lawyers serving in the General Assembly has steadily declined for the last ten years, and now is below 15%. I’m no lawyer, but if you’re intent on lawyer bashing, I’d have to say that they take ethics more seriously than most people, and maybe a few more of them in the legislature and few less insurance agents, bankers, “business consultants,” and real estate wheeler-dealers might be a good thing.

AmVet

June 23rd, 2011
11:21 am

OK, truthless. You’ve convinced me.

You ain’t obsessed with black people!

LOL…

ByteMe

June 23rd, 2011
11:23 am

As long as were ‘please keeping things in mind”, please also keep in mind that all of the money that fuels Wall Street excesses, fuels the banking corruption, fuels the credit defaul swaps, etc. originated with the Federal Reserve

MrLiberty needs to do better research. We do not exist in a vacuum. Our Federal Reserve did not cause the housing markets in Spain and Ireland to bubble then bust. AIG did not insure those losses with Fed money, but it took Fed money to keep it from taking out numerous banks and countries. Not saying they did a good job of it, but many of the alternatives were far worse than the current outcome.

Now if our corrupt politicians would do a better job reigning in their corporate masters on Wall Street, we’d all be better off. Yeah, I’m dreaming that part.

THE "REAL" TRUTH

June 23rd, 2011
11:24 am

@TruthBe, you sir are completely out of touch. I am a Black man, African American. the term Negro has a very negative tone. Just a littel short of the N word my friend. As for your comment of 38 years of the city of Atlanta being run into the ground…all I can say is, your comment speaks volumes about your bigotry. Aside from this blog being about the corruption of the GOP led state legislature, for you to even suggest such an opinion clearly shows your disdain for people of color, who by the way, save a few, actually moved the city forward. I am not saying that all city leaders were or ever were good for the city, but the city overall prospered (which would help explain the massive growth Atlanta experienced for years).

So, I think most on this blog, to include myself, are tired of your race baiting. I think a lot of things about the sitting governor, to be specific, he is a crook, a liar, and cheat, oh, who just happens to be white…that is no different than saying that Shirley Franklin was ineffective, completely off base, and adversarial, who just happened to be a black woman. But when you lead with color, it completey separates itself from the merits of your argument.

So, go away TruthBe. People like you are unhelpful to Georgia and this country. A lot of our problems in this country are based on race and until we all learn that its a problem and not the issue, then we can begin to address the issues and fix the problem by working together. Granted you’ll never dance to Wiz Khalifah, but you can appreciate that I do. I certainly will never understand a Rascal Flatt, and probably will never learn a country line dance (but I can 2 step), but I appreciate that you can. But from your comment, your head is so far in your rear end, all you can hear is waste. (For those reading that statement, PLEASE, input the appropriate language there…)

that is all.

Say what?

June 23rd, 2011
11:49 am

Republicans run elections on promising to be stewards of honest and open government… then they get elected and their promise is exposed as a lie.

kevin

June 23rd, 2011
11:51 am

Truthbe,

“Negro is the correct name for a race of people. I suppose “honkey” is suitable nomenclature for caucasions also. You are a genius!

Grasshopper

June 23rd, 2011
12:10 pm

Why didn’t the GOP morons vote for Handel when they had the chance?

Don't Tread

June 23rd, 2011
12:15 pm

The lesser of two evils is still evil.

Is it Casey’s turn yet?

fat cat

June 23rd, 2011
12:27 pm

rethugs want the govt. to force women to view a sonogram before they abort a fetus, yet get all bent out of shape when the DOT wants to jiggle their junk. i find this at odds with a limited govt. mindset. suck the fetus and lay off the junk is the consistent libertarian stance.

Kyle Wingfield

June 23rd, 2011
12:42 pm

Folks, the debate over the word “negro” is apropos of nothing and needs to end.