Georgia GOP can send lawmakers a loud message about the need for ethics reform (Updated)

UPDATE at 3:42 p.m., Friday, May 18: The Georgia GOP’s executive committee voted to put a question about ethics reform on the July 31 primary ballot. No exact wording available yet, but the references to “unlimited spending” and a $100 cap sound promising.

ORIGINAL POST:

A year ago, Georgia Republicans convening in Macon flashed an independent streak: They re-elected a grassroots favorite as state party chairman over the hand-picked candidate of new Gov. Nathan Deal. The message was that the party faithful would maintain a bit of separation between themselves and the man they worked to elect.

Tomorrow, party leaders have a chance to make a similar declaration of independence from the legislators they send to Atlanta in droves, over the matter of ethics reform.

Ethics reform went nowhere in this year’s legislative session, but it wasn’t for lack of effort by grassroots conservatives. Tea partyers allied with such groups as Common Cause to draft an ethics bill, recruited sponsors in both the House and Senate and lobbied each body’s leaders to let the measures proceed.

That last step is where the bills were killed — stashed in each chamber’s Rules Committee, never again to see the light of day. That did not, however, kill the activists’ spirits. On the contrary.

Multiple GOP districts last month voted to propose that a ballot question about ethics reform be put to voters in July’s Republican primary. This and other potential ballot questions will be weighed tomorrow as the party begins its annual two-day convention in Columbus.

A question about ethics reform is a slam dunk at the ballot box, if opinion polling is any sign. In a statewide poll before this year’s legislative session, 82 percent of self-identified Republicans said they supported a cap on gifts from lobbyists to legislators — the central plank in this year’s stymied ethics reform bills.

If that question is on the ballot, we’ll likely see two things happen. First, ethics will become a bigger topic in this year’s primary races. Second, it will be that much harder for Republican leaders in the Legislature to ignore the issue if their own voters endorsed reform.

But, as dear as ethics reform is to a number of Georgia Republicans, the question of the party’s independence from elected officials may be just as important for them.

It might not be apparent to those who see everything as either Republican or Democratic, but less-partisan Georgians are having a harder and harder time distinguishing the currently ruling Republicans from the perennially empowered Democrats they replaced. It’s a line I hear more and more from Georgians who don’t pledge allegiance to either side. They see this as a one-party state — the party of self- and special interests.

That is not entirely fair. But legislators do themselves no reputational favors when they refuse to draw a bright line between legitimate lobbying and practices that look like vote-buying to the average Georgian.

Look no further than this year’s “tax reform.” The measure was far weaker than bills that, a year earlier, were derided as “tax reform lite.” It represented little more than a shuffling of taxes around from more-favored activities to less-favored ones, rather than the broader, original promise to make the tax code flatter, simpler, lower — and, thereby, fairer.

You know, the taxation principles Republicans say they support.

Instead, the final bill was, more than anything, a kind of lifetime achievement award for some of this state’s longest-running lobbying efforts.

Some of the bill’s components are eminently defensible; I personally like the idea of exempting manufacturers from paying sales tax on energy, as all our neighboring states have done. But there is no getting around the fact that the bill’s winners read like a who’s who of the Capitol’s lobbyist corps.

Georgia’s grassroots Republicans spent years, some of them decades, making the case that their party would be different from, better than, the old Democratic guard that ran this state for 130 years. They should be ashamed by some of the things that haven’t changed since the reins of power changed hands. Many of them have told me they are.

In the age of super PACs, the continued usefulness of party infrastructure is not a given, at least not at the national level. One way the state party can remain relevant is to establish the culture and standards the elected officials who wear its label are expected to uphold.

The thrill of victory, after so many decades of defeat, led too many Georgia Republicans to look the other way for too long as too many of the people they elected failed to uphold those standards. Tomorrow is another chance to rein them back in.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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78 comments Add your comment

arnold

May 17th, 2012
5:23 am

The Georgia Republican Party consists of the former Georgia Democratic Party. There is no difference. Politics and ethics in Georgia, as well as most of the south, is nothing to be proud of.

AU Liberal in ATL

May 17th, 2012
6:46 am

How dare you use the words, “ethics reform” in the same sentence with “Georgia GOP”. The nerve!

stands for decibels

May 17th, 2012
6:59 am

Thanks for helping to keep this issue in the public eye, Kyle.

ohmy

May 17th, 2012
7:07 am

can…won’t

ByteMe

May 17th, 2012
7:13 am

They see this as a one-party state — the party of self- and special interests.

That is not entirely fair.

Actually, it’s entirely fair. Except for social authoritarian issues, which Tom Murphy would never have let see the light of day, the two parties in power operate with exactly the same level of self-interest and power/money grabbing at the expense of their constituents.

Ayn Rant

May 17th, 2012
7:19 am

The Georgia Republican Party of windbags, buffoons, and hypocrites needs to self-destruct. Ethnics and morals are just political postures; there’s not an ounce of sincerity between them.

@@

May 17th, 2012
7:19 am

Multiple GOP districts last month voted to propose that a ballot question about ethics reform be put to voters in July’s Republican primary.

Good for them!

Let’s hope wording doesn’t mislead the citizenry into voting against ethics reform.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 17th, 2012
7:24 am

If you need to be told how to act ethically, you’ve already lost the ethics argument.

Thomas Heyward Jr.

May 17th, 2012
7:26 am

Ethics aren’t “reformed”.
You either have them or you don’t.

Georgia Lawyers dominate Georgia’s Congress.
Georgia lawyers simply don’t have ethics.
.
Remember that at the voting booth.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

May 17th, 2012
7:27 am

Georgia Republicans are the real life version of the movie “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” when compared to what obozo’s got going on, just sayin…

JDW

May 17th, 2012
7:30 am

For once I agree with Tiberius…the problem isn’t ethics reform its the people that are getting elected.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 17th, 2012
7:33 am

The people getting elected aren’t electing themselves. You elected them.

stands for decibels

May 17th, 2012
7:40 am

And Kyle, thanks for baby-sitting the Bookman delinquents. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to change their nappies.

Michael B. Shapiro

May 17th, 2012
7:51 am

Thomas Heyward Jr.@ 7:26
Actually Georgia has, as a percentage, fewer lawyers than most states. While I don’t have numbers for the most recent session, in 2010 it was only 16% of the 236 Representatives and Senators (see http://www.ajc.com/opinion/again-its-open-season-662267.html). Further, lawyers happen to be some of the most ethical people I know. Perhaps you know the wrong lawyers!

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

May 17th, 2012
8:01 am

Isn’t it quite telling the total pass given to the Kennedy family treatment of women by their sociopath liberal media cult members?

Stack up any number of known abuses, compare them to a denial of a $9 birth control script and then you tell me who’s “on your side.”

Maybe dummycrat women like to be ground up and spit out?

interested observer

May 17th, 2012
8:04 am

Republicans and ethics? Surely not in the same column.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 17th, 2012
8:09 am

GOP and ethics in the same sentence?

mwuahahahahahahaha

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 17th, 2012
8:12 am

Ethnics and morals are just political postures;

freudian slip?

Aquagirl

May 17th, 2012
8:15 am

So is this proposed ballot question a symbolic exercise, or will it actually establish a law?

The people getting elected aren’t electing themselves. You elected them.

For once, I agree with Lil’ Barry. When voters say they want local control, lower taxes, ethics and all that jazz, then constantly elect/re-elect candidates who don’t do that, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out voters don’t really want those things. Either that, or they are too stupid to notice they aren’t getting them. In Georgia, scenario # 2 is a likely explanation.

There’s also a third scenario, in which lower taxes and ethics are of lesser importance than teaching THOSE PEOPLE a lesson. That’s another fun Republican game where they pick a whipping boy and whatever candidate whips up the most hate wins. This is why I no longer vote Republican for the most part. Too much hate oozing from every pore of the party.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 17th, 2012
8:23 am

Cons just like to talk about ethics.

It’s kinda like loving the bible and quoting it, etc, and in the next sentence blaming poor people and non-whites for every problem in the world. Of course white folks have never ever done anything bad; they are righteous, holy, and loving of all creatures. And when they do something that could be deemed bad, well, it’s for the common good.

You just have to be cornfused to be a con.

Wingnutz

May 17th, 2012
8:23 am

The problem in Georgia is that it is the same ‘types’ of people running the show. They used to call themselves ‘Democrat’ before civil rights. Now they call themselves ‘Republicans’ (tho, def NOT the Republicans of Lincoln); Fat cat, good ol’e boys of some bastardized European descent.

Wingnutz

May 17th, 2012
8:25 am

@I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin…

Your ‘catch phrase’ of “Just sayin’…” is done and outdated.

Just sayin’…

Thomas Heyward Jr.

May 17th, 2012
8:26 am

Michael B. Shapiro

May 17th, 2012
7:51 am

Thomas Heyward Jr.@ 7:26
Actually Georgia has, as a percentage, fewer lawyers than most states. While I don’t have numbers for the most recent session, in 2010 it was only 16% of the 236 Representatives and Senators (see http://www.ajc.com/opinion/again-its-open-season-662267.html). Further, lawyers happen to be some of the most ethical people I know. Perhaps you know the wrong lawyers!”
.
Good info.
The percentage of lawyer/legislators trend seems to be coming down too.
Good news for all.
.
But considering the corruption of the Georgia Bar, that 16% is STILL to high.
They have a non-proportional size derogatory poop-print on society as a rule.
.
And as far as only knowing the “wrong” lawyers?What other kind are there?Especially in Georgia.
Georgia lawyers richly deserve the reputation that they have.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 17th, 2012
8:30 am

Of course white folks have never ever done anything bad…

You just have to be cornfused to be a con.
———-

And apparently, you have to be a racist or self-loathing to be a libtard.

Bob Loblaw

May 17th, 2012
8:44 am

What a goofy column. With the advent of PACs a State Party has to force its elected members into legislating or risk losing relevance? What a horrible argument for writing a law–regardless of the subject. And you want this for what? To prevent something that “looks like” something? Let’s focus on things that are real.

Road Scholar

May 17th, 2012
8:48 am

Meaningful ethics rules are desired but have to go further than their past “meaningful” tax reforms.

Also will repubs un-elect their own who have already had multiple terms in office?

Centrist

May 17th, 2012
8:50 am

Extremely well put.

I don’t come to this blog often (also seldom to Schooled, never to Bookman’s liberal lines) since saying “amen” over and over gets old. I do have fun needling the milder liberal bias on the Political Insider, though.

Terri Tragesser

May 17th, 2012
8:52 am

Ethics reform is critical to Georgia’s future. If we continue the “pay to play”Georgia dome routine we will continue to be a second class state known for a cronyism business environment. Our elected officials are flying under the radar with their business deals and cronyism through the protection of LLC secrecy. They have financial interests in businesses, real estate, banks etc. and never disclose them because they are buried in LLC’s. It is not the ethics of the lobbists we should be worrying about. Lobbyists cannot dance alone – they need willing partners.

Name Withheld

May 17th, 2012
8:55 am

Kyle, your hopes for an ethical renaissance in Georgia’s Republican Party is touching. Impossibly naive, but touching. Perhaps you’ve been too distracted to notice the lines of lobbyists snaking outside the offices of Glen Richardson, Chip Rogers, Mitch Seabaugh, Casey Cagle, and Earl Ehrhart for the last ten years, not to mention a certain recent Governor who somehow managed to leave office a lot richer than he entered it. Your beloved “grassroots conservatives” can make all the noise they want, but the leaders in this state will not pay attention, for the simple reason that they know damn well those folks won’t vote for the Democrats no matter what they do.

Dumd and Dumber

May 17th, 2012
8:58 am

Give it up Kyle. The dems bit the dust in Georgia 10 years ago and show no signs of coming back — except inside the perimeter – for the next 20 years. Quit pointing fingers at what the dems did over a decade ago.

This is a solid red-state now. Time for the GOP to actually take responsibility for what it has failed to accomplish over the last 10 years.

Kiljoy

May 17th, 2012
9:01 am

Can you say “Don Balfour”? Thats all you need to know about the GOP and ethics

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 17th, 2012
9:01 am

Any ethical issues on Georgia are dwarfed by the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars funnelled through the labor unions and their mandatory dues, then sent back to Obozo and the Democrat party as donations and in-kind support.

You Democrat hypocrites make Americans sick.

iggy

May 17th, 2012
9:30 am

And Finn thinks the Chevy Volt is a luxury ride that can save the world.

td

May 17th, 2012
9:34 am

I totally disagree with Kyle and most of my fellow conservatives on this issue. What a politician takes from a lobbyist or a constituent is between that politician and the people the voters of his/her district/county or state. All I ask for is fast and full disclosure that is available to the voters to view (according to Kyle we have this now). If the voters of politician think it is OK for their representative to go to a Falcons game for free or take a trip to Europe on a lobbyist dime then so be it. The voters get exactly what they vote for and they need to take responsibility for their own votes.

Gene

May 17th, 2012
9:37 am

Yeah there will be GOP ethics reform . The GOP will find more ways to be unethical .

Rafe Hollister

May 17th, 2012
9:41 am

Ethics reform, you gotta be kidding, right?

Why would these people run for office, if all the perks were done away with? You don’t think most of them run, just so they can work for us, to improve the state, do you? Doesn’t matter the party,most run to pass legislation to help themselves and their friends, or to defeat legislation that would hurt themselves or their friends. We need to go to a bi-annual twenty day legislature season.

[...] Over in the editorial department, my AJC colleague Kyle Wingfield reports this bit of news: Multiple GOP districts last month voted to propose that a ballot question about ethics reform be [...]

Elias

May 17th, 2012
10:00 am

Ga. did have some terrible Democrats in the past but Georgia led the south in almost all development when they were in control. What now?

CobbGOPer

May 17th, 2012
10:04 am

The only way to get ethics reform is to throw most of the bums out. The problem is that most of the bums have either no opposition or token opposition in primary and general elections. It’s hard to throw the bums out when the bums are the only choice on the ballot.

Jefferson

May 17th, 2012
10:14 am

I agree with your opinion on ethics.

[...] in the editorial department, my AJC colleague Kyle Wingfield reports this bit of news: Multiple GOP districts last month voted to propose that a ballot question about ethics reform be [...]

ragnar danneskjold

May 17th, 2012
10:21 am

Don’t care about ethics reform. Care about prosecutions for bribery. If no bribery, do not care at all.

ByteMe

May 17th, 2012
10:38 am

Care about prosecutions for bribery.

The problem with that position is that prosecution has to directly tie an action — like voting or introducing a bill — to a specific bribe that goes into a person’s pocket. However, you see how much power GA Power lobbyists have over legislation in this state and it’s not because they hand someone a paper bag full of money. It’s done by repeated low-level “favors” and “dinners” and “trips” that eventually get used to influence their actions.

Kyle Wingfield

May 17th, 2012
10:39 am

Aquagirl: I don’t think you want questions on one party’s ballots to have the force of law…

It would be purely symbolic, but it’s one of the ways voters can speak to their elected officials. Now, about your and Lil’ Barry’s (and others’) comments about electing different people:

In the first place, this is the way the system works now. You are not going to see enough new legislators a) elected and b) sufficiently empowered once they arrive in Atlanta to change the system. At least, not quickly enough for many of them to avoid falling in line with the system. We know this, because it’s been this way for a long time.

Second, there is not enough competition in these elections — and I’m not only referring to the longstanding, but increasing, practice of drawing ever more “safe” districts for each party. I plan to address this more fully in another column, but tell me this: Who among you could afford to be away from your jobs for the first three, possibly four months of the year? Set aside for now the pay (about $17,000 a year, plus per diem), although that’s one aspect of the issue. How many of you could be away from work for that long — not to mention a number of other days, scattered throughout the rest of the year — and hope to keep your job? (Note: I am NOT proposing a full-time or year-round Legislature.)

In addition to measures such as ethics reform, we are going to have to think hard about how we change a legislative arrangement designed for an agrarian economy (in which being away from the farm in January and February wasn’t as big a deal — and in which the need to get back and prepare for the planting season helped prevent sessions from taking up such a large portion of the calendar).

Kyle Wingfield

May 17th, 2012
10:41 am

ByteMe @ 10:38: “It’s done by repeated low-level ‘favors’ and ‘dinners’ and ‘trips’ that eventually get used to influence their actions.”

Those things create friendships, and it’s harder to say “no” to your friends. I hear it over and over from ex-legislators.

ByteMe

May 17th, 2012
10:51 am

You know I’m with you on this, Kyle (and with Jay when he produces his pieces on it). And we’ve agreed that there needs to be better compensation for legislators if we’re going to make the little “favors” seem… little. And to draw a better class of individual into the legislature. Right now, the compensation is designed for the unemployed, those who don’t actually have to show up for work for whatever reason, for farmers who don’t have to worry about their crops until April, and the retired. Not exactly the people you want making rules over the entire state’s economic future.

Real Athens

May 17th, 2012
10:52 am

Kyle:

It really has nothing to do with party. 30 years ago, nearly every one of these elected officials would have been Russell Democrats – hell, most of them old enough to be were.

Our legislature is based on something more insidious: a centuries established power grab that leads to wealth and more power –”Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”– the money is provided today by the same people as it was back then: the transportation “industry”, developers, real estate magnates, energy provider and the culture that surround them.

Why would a man, $4 Million plus in debt, take a $147,000 a year job? How long will it take for Nathan Deal’s economic woes to go away?

Jefferson

May 17th, 2012
10:56 am

Why would someone loan 4 mil without collateral ?

Kyle Wingfield

May 17th, 2012
11:08 am

Real Athens: I don’t understand this sentence: “Why would a man [Nathan Deal], $4 Million plus in debt, take a $147,000 a year job?”

Are you suggesting that, at age 68 (at the time of the 2010 election), he could have made a lot more money in another line of work? Maybe, but I don’t think it’s a cinch.

Jefferson

May 17th, 2012
11:12 am

Its the bennnies not the salary…that will enrich the politician.