By the numbers: Why ethics reform makes sense in Georgia

The Pareto Principle is alive and well under the Gold Dome.

Roughly speaking, the Pareto Principle holds that 20 percent of the people produce 80 percent of the results. In business, it might mean a handful of salespeople are responsible for most of a firm’s revenue. In agriculture, it might mean — as the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed a century ago — one-fifth of the pods produce four-fifths of the peas.

Regarding our General Assembly, I allude not to how many lawmakers introduce the bulk of bills that are passed — although that might be true. Rather, I’m talking about gifts from lobbyists to legislators.

My review of such gifts reported in 2011 found that, for the top three leaders in the House (David Ralston, Jan Jones and Larry O’Neal) and Senate (Casey Cagle, Tommie Williams and Chip Rogers), 19 percent of reported gifts accounted for 72 percent of the money spent.

Pretty close to Pareto.

The dividing line that created the 19-72 split was a gift value of $100. That is, 19 percent of gifts to these six lawmakers cost $100 or more, totaling some $58,000 out of the $80,000-plus lobbyists spent on them.

I chose $100 because that’s the proposed cap on gifts in the ethics reform bill (HB 798) introduced last week by Rep. Tommy Smith, R-Nicholls, and strongly supported by the Tea Party Patriots, Common Cause and other groups.

One argument against a gift cap is that it would infringe on lobbyists’ ability to make their cases to lawmakers. Another is that a restriction would push activity “underground”: It wouldn’t go away, but it would go unreported to the public.

If 81 percent of lobbyist gifts already fit underneath the cap, however, those fears strike me as overblown. I am also comforted by the fact that many of these pricey gifts are made by state agencies (think college football tickets) or Fortune 500-type corporations. Neither seems likely to risk being caught flouting state law. More likely, there would be less-expensive meals and fewer trips to stadiums, golf courses or more far-flung spots.

Somehow, I suspect, representative democracy would survive.

Another protest I’ve heard is that any move to limit gifts will lead to political one-upmanship and a race to zero. (“You’re for $100? Well, I’m for $50.” “Yeah? Well, I’m for $25!” And so on.)

Zero sounds good to some folks, but I share the concerns about underground spending in the event of a total ban. In any case, better to start with a limit and evaluate whether further change is needed.

With that in mind, I asked the Senate Democratic leader, Steve Henson of Tucker, whether his caucus would be likely to spark a race to zero.

“If you’re trying to do the right thing and you’re trying to limit gifts from $1,000 [in a few cases now] to $100, I don’t see you being hurt by the public for not going to $10,” he said. “If [Republicans] would enter a dialogue with us, I’m certain we wouldn’t just play a game to try to one-up them politically.”

There’s another way Pareto can be at play here: A small number of citizens can produce large results by talking to their legislators about limits. I hear the phone calls are coming in — and working. Don’t let up now.

Here are contacts for key House and Senate officials on this issue, as listed on the General Assembly’s website:

Senate

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle: 404-656-5030

Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons (President Pro Tem): 404-656-0089

Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock (Majority Leader): 404-463-1378

Sen. John Crosby, R-Tifton (Chair, Ethics Committee): 404-463-5258

Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain (Secretary, Ethics Committee): 404-656-0075

House

Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge (Speaker of the House): 404-656-5020

Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton (Speaker Pro Tem): 404-656-5072

Rep. Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire (Majority Leader): 404-656-5052

Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta (Minority Leader): 404-656-5058

Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs (Chair, Ethics Committee): 404-463-8143

And read previous posts on this topic by me, Jay Bookman and the AJC’s editorial board:

To restore public trust, pass ethics reform

In Georgia, time to halt unlimited gifts from lobbyists

Unlimited gift-giving is legalized bribery

House leaders try to squash ethics reform

Ethics legislation: Limit dollar distractions


– By Kyle Wingfield

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135 comments Add your comment

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

January 27th, 2012
6:43 pm

As long as there is disclosure, I don’t really care whether there’s a limit or not.

Mr. Moneybags

January 27th, 2012
7:03 pm

Disclosure from the lobbyists, not the politicians. Or an independent audit board.

Hillbilly D

January 27th, 2012
7:07 pm

Ethics makes sense but can you really expect the fox to give up the key to the henhouse, when the fox is the one making the rules?

harold

January 27th, 2012
7:11 pm

Politics is supposed to make sense?

Hillbilly D

January 27th, 2012
7:24 pm

Roughly speaking, the Pareto Principle holds that 20 percent of the people produce 80 percent of the results.

In the car business, it’s called the 80-20 Rule. 20% of your customers account for 80% of your sales, 20% of your part numbers account for 80% of your sales, etc. I’d imagine that most every business has some similar variation of the same principle.

St Simons - the real Andy Dufresne

January 27th, 2012
7:25 pm

does that tin-foil clown hat for Mark Hatfield cost $100?

Rafe Hollister

January 27th, 2012
7:28 pm

Politicians and ethics are like two magnets with opposite charges, they just continue to push away from each other no matter how hard you push them together.

You have to take the approach my father did with me. He told me I could do whatever I wanted and probably get away with it for awhile, but eventually he would hear about it and when he did, I would wish I hadn’t been born. Same standard needs to apply to politicians, tough love.

Real Athens

January 27th, 2012
7:53 pm

The dissolution of political parties might go a long way towards Government reform, in light there is no mention of them whatsoever in the Constitution.

Excellent post Kyle, especially providing all the data and ways to contact the aforementioned representatives.

Hillbilly D

January 27th, 2012
7:59 pm

The dissolution of political parties might go a long way towards Government reform, in light there is no mention of them whatsoever in the Constitution.

George Washington specifically warned us against them, in his Farewell Address.

Mary Elizabeth

January 27th, 2012
8:14 pm

“My review of such gifts reported in 2011 found that, for the top three leaders in the House (David Ralston, Jan Jones and Larry O’Neal) and Senate (Casey Cagle, Tommie Williams and Chip Rogers), 19 percent of reported gifts accounted for 72 percent of the money spent. . .That is, 19 percent of gifts to these six lawmakers cost $100 or more, totaling some $58,000 out of the $80,000-plus lobbyists spent on them.”
======================================

Excellent column, with important information given to the public. Thank you.

Michael H. Smith

January 27th, 2012
9:15 pm

One argument against a gift cap is that it would infringe on lobbyists’ ability to make their cases to lawmakers. Another is that a restriction would push activity “underground”: It wouldn’t go away, but it would go unreported to the public.

Nail on head, Kyle. The same one away or another, by hook or by crook, scenario played out in campaign finance reform. You can never really take the money out of politics, no matter how much we all would like to fool ourselves into believing that we can. Money is just another form of freedom of speech, even though we often don’t like what it says.

Real Athens

January 27th, 2012
9:21 pm

“Another is that a restriction would push activity “underground”: It wouldn’t go away, but it would go unreported to the public.”

But it would be punishable by law. Lock ‘em up like a bunch of New Years Eve amateurs.

Michael H. Smith

January 27th, 2012
9:23 pm

But it would be punishable by law. Lock ‘em up like a bunch of New Years Eve amateurs.

We can’t afford that many jails: Times is hard.

Real Athens

January 27th, 2012
9:58 pm

Michael:

Now that’s rich.

Hillbilly D

January 27th, 2012
10:19 pm

There are 236 member of the General Assembly. If all 236 of them get caught breaking the law, that’s 236 cells. Each county can take one member and the largest 77 counties can take 2. Finding cells for the ones convicted, shouldn’t be that big of a drain on the Treasury.

Michael H. Smith

January 27th, 2012
10:22 pm

Ouch! :)

But not really, cause we throw them all in jail now when they brake the law and they are caught. Nothing really changes… well, maybe they learn how better not to caught, but the practice seems to never end only the methods, means and few names change.

Better transparency and voter pressure too, will only go so far.

Once again: You can never really take the money out of politics, no matter how much we all would like to fool ourselves into believing that we can. Money is just another form of freedom of speech, even though we often don’t like what it says.

Michael H. Smith

January 27th, 2012
10:29 pm

Again we been throwing them in jail for years Hillbilly and the money game continues it’s not going to stop because we put these caps in place, call it ethic reform, pat each others back and then look at one another and say guess we showed them!

This is what most folks call “Feel Good Legislation” something to demagogue come election time.

Michael H. Smith

January 27th, 2012
10:37 pm

Hey but don’t let this stick in the mud deter anyone, go on pass this ethics reform. But don’t think it is going to be much better than the results of McCain Fiengold. Money and politics are unfortunately inseparable.

Hillbilly D

January 27th, 2012
10:40 pm

I look at it like swatting flies in the summer time, most of them will get away but splatter as many as you can.

Just Saying..

January 27th, 2012
10:44 pm

And silly me thought just voting Republican would take care of the problem…

Michael H. Smith

January 27th, 2012
10:50 pm

And that’s about all that will ever be done is to stop a very few worst offenders.

Hillbilly D

January 27th, 2012
10:54 pm

The last member of the General Assembly that I remember building any time was Roscoe Dean. If there’s been anybody since, I’ve forgotten them.

Michael H. Smith

January 27th, 2012
11:03 pm

Not sure but I remember a Democrat from around the Augusta area it seems, who got into some legal troubles, though he was a bit more recent then Roscoe and I do recall Roscoe cutting a deal rather than doing time.

Hillbilly D

January 27th, 2012
11:09 pm

Who could forget state Sen. Roscoe Dean, who conspired to organize an illegal drug cartel on the Georgia coast to finance his campaign for governor? Roscoe had just one small problem: His co-conspirators were undercover GBI agents. Alas, poor Roscoe was arrested and sent to prison.

http://search.onlineathens.com/fast-elements.php?type=standard&profile=athens&querystring=%22ROSCOE DEAN%22

According to that he did time but it’s been close to 40 years, so my memory may be hazy. I do think you’re right about the guy in Augusta. Some kind of fraud thing?

Michael H. Smith

January 27th, 2012
11:16 pm

Yep, I was right, the guy’s name is Charles Walker.

http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2004/06/27/met_420373.shtml

It seemed to me Roscoe cut a deal with the feds to get out of politics rather than serve time, perhps it didn’t go down that way or the deal fail trough but I do recall the time period back in the ’60s so it has probably been closer to 50 years by now.

Yeah and you don’t have to say it, I am old.

Hillbilly D

January 27th, 2012
11:16 pm

We conclude that Dean’s argument is totally devoid of merit. It would be ludicrous to believe that one who solicits millions of dollars in exchange for promises to appoint narcotics figures to government office and to prosecute selectively competing drug smugglers is predisposed to do anything but deal in drugs. If Dean was entrapped, it was in the web of his own ambition

http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?page=5&xmldoc=1982840666F2d174_1807.xml&docbase=CSLWAR1-1950-1985&SizeDisp=7

That’s from his appeal. I remember Fredrick Allen, at the time saying, reckon what would’ve happened if the first undercover guy who Roscoe contacted had just said, “Roscoe, you’re talking crazy. Just go home.”

Hillbilly D

January 27th, 2012
11:18 pm

I was thinking it was the early 70’s but the memory is the 2nd thing to go they say. :lol:

Nite all.

captguitarman

January 28th, 2012
1:04 am

Until there are political consequences. the Pubs are not going to support a cap on gifts. They stood on the side lines for so long, out of power, and watching the Dems rake in all the gifts, the trips, the vacations, the mega expensive drinks and dinner, the big football and baseball games, the travel, all the perqs. And then they got the power, and guess what? Just like in almost every other they touch, they are really not that much different thant the Dems were. It’s a “Georgia thing” not a party thing. Unless they figure out that it will mean their jobs, they will never give up the legislative lifestyle. It’s the way things are. The bill limiting caps on gifts got slim to no support. No Pub will buck Ralston any more than any Dem would have bucked Murphy. Georgia continues to sink in power and prestige. Atlanta is no longer the capital of the old “New South.” Only the interests with real “bought and paid for ccess” will be heard and heeded. Does disclosure really matter? Hey, folks, just so you know, I got bought off on this issue with tickets the to Super Bowl worth $3,000. Just wanted y’all to know. Just deal with it. It should be easy. It’s just deja’ vu all over again.

independent thinker

January 28th, 2012
6:00 am

Ethics and the Georgia Legislature? How naive of you Kyle.

Road Scholar

January 28th, 2012
6:21 am

Limit gifts to $25, as it is for some Departments. The hell with jail, make them resign. Heck, the power is what they feed on!

Lobbyist can’t get their point across w/o money /gifts. What? Does it loosen their toungues? Give me a break!

Ayn Rant

January 28th, 2012
6:54 am

Limiting gifts is not enough to make a politican ethical, but limiting both gifts and campaign contributions will discourage unethical poilticians from seeking political office.

@@

January 28th, 2012
8:36 am

I was given the opportunity to lobby my district commissioner this morning.

Seein’s how his only income is through his position on the board…I paid for the coffee, the room, the utilities therein and the staff that mans MY local library.

Aside from this mornings expenditures, I paid for HIS divorce attorney, the settlement costs relative to HIS divorce, HIS living expenses AND the fine incurred when HE was caught driving under the influence.

I’ve probably exceeded the cap.

Let me know when the left-wingers are ready to “cap” the environmental lobbyists, the union lobbyists, the education lobbyists.

schnirt

Name Withheld

January 28th, 2012
8:45 am

There is a very simple reason that the big money flows to only 20% of the General Assembly. That 20% is the group with the power to move or stop a bill.

Name Withheld

January 28th, 2012
8:47 am

@@:

Not sure what you’re trying to say there, but you may rest assured that the total amount of gifts contributed to the General Assembly by the “environmental lobbyists, the union lobbyists, and the education lobbyists” wouldn’t match one days’ worth of gifts floated by the Georgia Power Company.

Denise Caldon

January 28th, 2012
8:49 am

You are correct, many “Foxes are guarding the hen house” when it comes to not just lobbyist gifts, but fiscal and ethical accountability in our state government. Interesting that the media will not touch the fact that our State’s Attorney General Sam Olens is the “Fox” guarding the “House” full of serious violations by his Defendants – the Board of Regents of the USG – while wearing the hat as the attorney for our State’s Ethics Commission Director! Yet, Olens mandates “Open Records” of others – just not in the cases he defends. Olens is on record that he even filed an Objection to the Motion that would have finally allowed Georgians to read the facts for themselves (copy available). If this serious “Conflict of Interest” is not enough to get someone’s attention in the Atlanta media, then try the fact that the new Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, Senator Buddy Carter, sent an email last week (copy available) which states he was told by the BOR’s attorney – Attorney General Sam Olens – NOT to discuss these confirmed and sealed violations about his Defendants. In others words, our elected officials are told who they can speak with and what documents they can read by the very attorney that is defending the government officials! I encourage you to join me at the public forum of the General Assembly where the facts will be disclosed for all to hear when HB 206 is discussed. Date TBD. One violation that is Open Record is the fact that NO appeals by statewide USG faculty, staff or students are even read by the BOR’s Committee as they are made to believe – a “sham” and a serious breach of legal due process for all USG employees and students statewide.

carlosgvv

January 28th, 2012
8:51 am

Ethics reform makes eminently good sense, not only in Georgia but in all States. With sound and enforced ethics laws, representative democracy would be far stronger and the people’s trust in politicians would be far greater than it is now. Unfortunately, getting politicians to actually pass strong ethics laws that can be enforced is exactly like hiring the foxes to guard the hen houses. Big Business has succeeded in turning our politicial system into a perverted travesty of bought and paid for lackeys. We will have as much success in changing this as the Russian people had in overthrowing Joseph Stalin. In other words, get used to it as it is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Name One

January 28th, 2012
8:53 am

Let’s be honest, when Dem’s controlled the Gold Dome, they looked the other way on ethics, with the chief example being Charles Walker of Augusta. Now the Republicans control virtually every aspect of state government, they too have looked the other way, gutting the ethics commission staff. Republicans can put in place systems that hold elected officials accountable for their actions.

But they have chosen not to.

@@

January 28th, 2012
9:04 am

Name Withheld:

Normally I wouldn’t respond to someone withholding.

…wouldn’t match one days’ worth of gifts floated by the Georgia Power Company.

Not my problem…I’m with EMC.

GodHatesTrash, Superstar

January 28th, 2012
9:43 am

Georgia has some of the cheapest politicians money can buy. Most will vote for any bill you want for a couple of lap dances or two.

Georgians have the gummint they deserve. Punks, thugs, sleaze.

ragnar danneskjold

January 28th, 2012
9:58 am

So if I follow this correctly, we are urging implementation of a law that would not affect 80% of the legislature in any event? Hard to pass any law with only 20% support. Sounds like leftists wasting time on a distraction rather than cutting spending and taxes, which ought to be the top priority of any legislature. And abolishing laws and commissions, which ought to be the special priority of the Georgia legislature.

@@

January 28th, 2012
10:35 am

GHT:

Georgians have the gummint they deserve. Punks, thugs, sleaze.

And then there’s you. How did we ever get so “lucky”?

Michael H. Smith

January 28th, 2012
10:39 am

Unfortunately there are only two sources that generate electric power in this state if my memory serves correctly @@.
So it probably really is an unavoidable problem, even when you are dealing with an EMC, because they have to buy power from one of these two main power generating sources: GA Power or Oglethorpe Power.

Since the question of having an active lobby would serve judicial notice in the case of GA Power, here’s something on lobbying that came up from a search performed on Oglethorpe Power.

http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000054940&year=2008

Lobbying per se’ isn’t the evil, it is when anything is done for a monetary gain or possibly politically in some cases that benefits the politician personally, or their family or friends that usually produces the ethical and legal problems.

Then again, when a regulation is made to restrict or prohibit competition from small business or a small business start up as is known to occur through lobbying efforts, even fewer question are ever raised on the ethics, whereas the payoffs might happen after a politician leaves office.

Yet, we constantly see folks on this blog and elsewhere, rah, rah, and defend to the death – so to speak – every regulation as though it is our government unquestionably serving the greater good to protect we vulnerable consumers from those old big greedy Corporations; when in fact, it was probably one of those old big greedy Corporations that had the regulation put in place via lobbying to protect their profits, not our pockets or safety.

veritas

January 28th, 2012
10:44 am

So $100 makes someone ethical? Just because Kyle Wingfield says so? Get off your moral high horse. I wonder what is in your closet? Good thing for you is no one cares, yet. We don’t need more laws legislate moral and ethical behavior.

Michael H. Smith

January 28th, 2012
10:48 am

In my case I’m just mad that I can’t afford a lobbyist! :evil:

Real Athens

January 28th, 2012
10:55 am

Another nonsensical argument built of straw.

The “leftists” supporting the and pushing the Ethics Reform include:

Julianne Thompson – State Coordinator, Georgia Tea Party Patriots, Co-Organizer, Atlanta Tea Party; Kay Godwin – Co-Founder, Georgia Conservatives in Action; Dan Becker – President, Georgia Right to Life; Debbie Dooley – State Coordinator, Georgia Tea Party Patriots, Co-Organizer Atlanta Tea Party; Pat Tippett – Co-Founder, Georgia Conservatives in Action; Sara Salsbury – State President, Eagle Forum; Jack Smith – Chairman, North Georgia Tea Party Alliance, Gilmer County Tea Party; Jerry LaGuire – President, Georgia Christian Coalition; Nolan and Diane Cox – Valdosta Tea Party; Judy Craft – Conservative Republican Women of North Atlanta; Wendy Bloedt – Coweta County Tea Party; Michael Opitz – President, Madison Forum; Steve Ramey – Founding Fathers Tea Party Patriots; Cheryl Espy-Dalton – Clayton County 9-12 Tea Party; Sahar Hekmati – Conservative Republican Women; Mary Adamski – North Georgia 9-12; Terri Green – Conservative Republican Women of North Atlanta; Linda Umberger – Dawson County Tea Party; Debbie Whelchel – North Georgia New Generation Republican Women; Cheryl Lavette – Smart Girl Politics; Nickie Summers – C.E.O. of Stand Up Be Read; Jeff Chapman – Peach Tea PAC; Kathy Hildebrand – Conservative Republican Women of North Atlanta; Jody Hice – President, Let Freedom Ring Ministries; Mike Griffin – Executive Director, Ten Commandments Project of Georgia; Bob Frey – Georgia Tea Party Patriots

who are pushing a GOP led legislature and Senate (both with super majorities) and controlled by a GOP led Executive Branch.

Yep. Communists – all of them.

GodHatesTrash, Superstar

January 28th, 2012
10:56 am

&&, you should run for office – your angry, arrogant stupidity would be well received by the Georgia electorate…

MrLiberty

January 28th, 2012
11:42 am

Expecting legislators to enact and obey ethics legislation is like expecting Catholic priests to do the same with regards to rules against child molestation. These are the same folks that steal from us on a daily basis and justify their actions by hiding behind the very laws they passed that “legally” allow their behavior. They are also the same folks that pass legislation making it nearly impossible for independents and third party candidates to get on the ballot to challenge their stranglehold on government power.

The problem is, and has never been the gifts. They are just a symptom of a government that has given itself the ability to steal our incomes, steal our property/and property rights through taxation, violate our civil liberties, destroy the economy through regulation and taxation, and otherwise pick winners and losers among the economic competitors. So long as government is allowed to regulate/manipulate the economy in this fashion and has a virtually limitless supply of cash to dole out to their friends, ethics legislation will be completely useless.

Instead of wasting your time calling all these idiots, contact the state Libertarian Party and work to support their candidates. Only the libertarians seem to understand and vocalize the connection between government power and the problems we see in the economy. Republicans talk a good talk, but they fundamentally LOVE government power so long as it goes to help out their friends, rather than so-called “liberal” causes.

Ethics legislation sounds good on paper, but the limited government claims in the republican party platform sound good on paper too. At least the record of elected libertarians all over the country shows that they stick to their guns when it actually comes to upholding their principles and have been working to save citizens literally billions of dollars over the nearly 4 decades the party has been in existence.

wallbanger

January 28th, 2012
11:44 am

I would like to see the politicians outed by the AJC in a regular column daily. Just enter the politcians name, title, contribution, and contributor on a daily basis. That ought to be enough to make people wake up (provided of course they can read).

MrLiberty

January 28th, 2012
11:46 am

Keep in mind, there are only two political parties to blame for the situation that exists in GA and accross the nation – the republicans and the democrats.

Dusty

January 28th, 2012
11:51 am

Well, anybody know someone who is already ethical that we can send to the liegislature? NO?

Then let’s put security guards at the doors of the capitol and no lobbyists are allowed to enter. None! Zero!

Any legislator found with a “donated”gift, check or lobbyist in lap will be put in stocks and displayed on Peachtree Street.

Hey, if we want enforced ethics, let’s go all out.

But first, let’s burn at the stake all bloggers who called the good citizens of Georgia “communists”. Now that’s fair punishment.