Secretary of State Karen Handel on Monday continued to push sleaze in the state Capitol — specifically the Legislature — as a defining issue in next year’s Republican primary for governor.
Last week, Handel was the only Republican candidate for governor to call for the resignation of House Speaker Glenn Richardson. Within the last few minutes, her campaign issued a press release that included the following:
“We are fortunate to have many dedicated members of the Legislature. This is an opportunity for all of us to take significant measures to end the culture of insider dealings, conflicts of interest and behavior that no one should be proud of but has been with us for decades. Republicans and Democrats are equally responsible and it’s time that it is finally addressed, Handel said today.
Here’s her proposed to-do list:
1. Ban gifts of more that $25 to elected officials.
This would eliminate the junkets, steak dinners and free cocktail hours lobbyists use to peddle influence among lawmakers.
2. Make the Georgia Open Records Act apply to the Legislature as it does to all state agencies.
Lawmakers are paid by the taxpayers and are spending the taxpayers’ money. Their deliberations, official correspondence and work product should be transparent to the public just as they are for other state agencies.
3. Give jurisdiction to the State Ethics Commission for issues relating to conflicts of interest for legislators, state office holders, agency directors — including spouses.
Currently, jurisdiction for these matters is held by the Attorney General’s office. Enforcement of these issues/questions is through the filing of a civil action against the legislator (which has seldom if ever occurred). Currently there is not even a ‘complaint’ process or anything of that nature….
4. Require all legislators to file a Conflict of Interest Statement with the State Ethics Commission, which will serve as the clearinghouse and repository of the statements and will be required to post them online. Lawmakers would also be required to recuse themselves from all matters that pertain to that conflict.
The people have a right to know if their elected officials are doing business with the state….
Currently, the conflict of interest provisions apply only to those with a 25% ownership interest or more than $20,000 in income. Additionally, there is no state repository for the files (the Senate and House file internally) and there does not appear to be a mechanism in place for making them public. These records are currently unavailable to the public due to the legislative exemption to the state’s open records laws.
5. Continue the Governor’s transparency initiative so that taxpayers will be able to see – to the dollar – where every dollar is spent in state government.
6. Make mandatory the disclosure of travel and expense reimbursement by elected officials as is already required of agency directors.
It’s fair to say that ethics in the Legislature will be a hot topic in the 2010 session that begins next month.
My AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin, over at Gold Dome Live, points out two Democratic initiatives:
Rep. Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna), a 2010 candidate for attorney general, said that he would introduce legislation for the coming session to overhaul the state’s conflict of interest laws and to transfer enforcement responsibility from lawmakers themselves to the State Ethics Commission.
“Allowing the Legislature to police itself on ethics is like letting a criminal preside over his own court hearing,” Teilhet said. “We must address the underlying culture of corruption that has allowed self-dealing and conflicts of interest to run rampant at our Capitol.”
And Gary Horlacher, a Democratic candidate for secretary of state, wants the State Ethics Commission appointed by the state Supreme Court, rather than the governor, House speaker and the Senate.
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