Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

House ethics bill would require Grover Norquist to register as lobbyist?

House Speaker David Ralston has dropped his bill that contains a total ban on gifts from lobbyists to state lawmakers:

Ralston said his bill, introduced Tuesday, also restores the state ethics commission’s ability to create new regulations and provides a specific ban on tickets to nearly all sporting events and concerts.

Along the way, my AJC colleague Chris Joyner talked to House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams of Atlanta, who said the broader definition of lobbyists contained in the measure should capture “fly-in lobbyists, those corporate folks who come in and aren’t captured by anyone’s rules.”

That also would include some specific people who work for non-profit pressure groups, she said. Abrams had someone specific in mind:

“I think Grover Norquist has had an outsized influence on the way we discuss and debate issues here at the Capitol. I think anyone who can change the direction of a state should be considered a lobbyist and should be captured by our rules …

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The Union of Georgia Elected Officials?

At the tail end of Thursday’s state of the state address, Gov. Nathan Deal weighed into the debate over ethics at the state Capitol.

Never mind the dig at the press corps. The governor may have frozen the discussion by declaring that any rules applied to state lawmakers should also apply to every elected official in Georgia. Emphasis mine:

”I will conclude my remarks on a topic that does not require the recitation of statistics, but is one that is recognized in both the public and private domains as a cornerstone of success – that is ethics. We can build the strongest foundations of frugality, efficiency and competitiveness upon which our state government will rest; but if the citizens of Georgia don’t trust us, it will all be in vain, for the vibrations of distrust will crack even the strongest foundations.

“There will always be those in the media and elsewhere who thrive on sowing the seeds of doubt and distrust and who will never recant their sinister innuendos …

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The forbidden topic lurking behind the ethics reform debate

However reluctantly, the Legislature has begun a sensitive debate over the freebies that lawmakers accept from those pushing the bills they pass judgment upon.

At the risk of being accused of goal post-moving, allow me to point out that everyone involved – lawmakers, the press, tea partyers, and do-gooders of all stripes – has shied away from the fundamental situation that makes any conversation about ethics reform so difficult.

The topic is so politically volatile that no lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, is allowed to mention the subject – unless it is to douse it with cold water. But here it is in a nutshell: We need to start paying a decent salary to these 236 lawmakers sent to Atlanta each year.

The idea was considered and ultimately discarded by the alliance of conservatives, liberals and civic-minded pushing this year’s $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers.

“They don’t think that anybody is going to buy into it this year,” said Kay Godwin, a …

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Jeff Mullis moves into his new quarters — as Senate Rules chairman, we think

At 4:40 p.m. Monday, Jeff Mullis was slouched in a red chair outside chambers, in conversation with yours truly, when an aide brushed by to let him know that the letter containing his Senate leadership assignment had been sent out.

“What’s it say?” the senator from Chickamauga asked, pretending that his appointment as chairman of Senate Rules Committee wasn’t the most badly kept secret in the state Capitol.

State Sen. Jeff Mullis totes his object d'art to his new offices.

State Sen. Jeff Mullis totes his object d’art to his new offices.

With a reporter present, the aide refused to bite, and said the sealed news was waiting for him in his basement office. The committee assignments had been due out at 3 p.m., but had been delayed due to some last-minute tweaks – made to account for angry floor speeches from former Senate president pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan.

Both had expressed disappointment that their fellow senators, by adopting a new set of chamber rules, this morning returned much of Lt. Gov. …

Continue reading Jeff Mullis moves into his new quarters — as Senate Rules chairman, we think »

Those new Senate rules: $100 gift cap, but private citizens remain barred from filing ethics complaints

We’ve got a copy of the new Senate rules about to be approved by the chamber. Click here for your copy, or browse through it here:

From a quick reading:

The same rules that put a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers include a large loophole for travel, and also shrinks the list of those who may file complaints alleging violations to the Senate Ethics Committee – dropping “volunteers” from the list.

Complaints may only be brought by “a Senator or Senate staff, aides, or interns.” I.e., those who receive a paycheck from the chamber.

You’ll recall that the recent complaint against Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour was originally filed with the state ethics commission by a junior majoring in political science at Georgia Gwinnett College, who compared Balfour’s mileage claims and found lobbyists reported buying Balfour meals on the same dates in August in New Orleans and San Antonio.

The state ethics commission referred the complaint to Senate Ethics …

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Your Daily Jolt: Kingston suggests short ‘cliff’ dive

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met at the White House Thursday with no apparent progress on the fiscal cliff, and things are getting so bad that NBC News’ Chuck Todd on “Morning Joe” — what Washington watches on the treadmill — brought up 1990s literature. Todd said the negotiations are proceeding so poorly that it seems like Obama is from Mars and Boehner is from Venus.

With most everyone shut out of the mano-a-mano discussions, members of Congress are floating ideas. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., according to the Washington Post, is proposing to let the marginal tax rates rise for earnings above $250,000 for a family — but maintain current policy otherwise, including dividend, capital gains and estate taxes. The idea is to end up with a tactical victory for the GOP because this would create far less increased revenue than even Boehner has proposed.

Savannah Republican U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston told the AP’s Chuck Babington that he does …

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Former House speaker Glenn Richardson to run for state Senate seat

Are you ready for the return of Glenn Richardson?

Sometime this afternoon, Gov. Nathan Deal will name state Sen. Bill Hamrick, R-Carrollton, as the newest superior court judge on the Coweta Judicial Circuit.

Hamrick has already handed to the governor a letter of resignation, effective Sept. 10.
The date, within 60 days of the next election, will allow Deal to call for a special primary election for Nov. 6, the same day as the general election. A general election for the District 30 Senate seat would be held on the day currently scheduled for the December runoff.

We’re told that one Republican certain to make a bid for Hamrick’s empty seat is Richardson, the former House speaker, who resigned in 2010 following a suicide attempt, and the revelation by his wife that he’d had an affair with a Capitol lobbyist.

Another possible candidate is state Rep. Bill Hembree, R-Winston, the former House rules chairman. But Hembree would have to resign his House seat by Sept. 6, to allow …

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Why Josh McKoon wanted tougher punishment for Don Balfour in ethics case

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, the only dissenting vote on the Senate Ethics Committee last week in the matter of Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour, has sent a copy of his “minority report” laying out his position for a harsher punishment.

Balfour was fined $5,000 and ordered to pay $300 and change in additional restitution. Read the entirety of McKoon’s report here. This appears to be the gist:

Without getting into the question of intent on the part of [Balfour], the facts are that false reports were filed with the Legislative Fiscal Office by [Balfour] and that [Balfour] received monies he was not entitled to under the law. The Committee decided it was sufficient to fine [Balfour], ask for further restitution to be paid and that the Audit Subcommittee be appointed and begin meeting.

The Minority [i.e., McKoon] reviewed the case of State Senator Roscoe Dean, who was censured by the State Senate in 1976 for similar offenses, namely filing false expense reports, …

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Josh McKoon: Don Balfour ethics decision ‘undermines’ public confidence

Here’s the lede on the Don Balfour story by my AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin:

The Senate Ethics Committee voted Thursday to fine Sen. Don Balfour $5,000 and the Snellville Republican will also repay about $350 to the state.

Balfour, chairman of the Rules Committee, was accused of billing the state for mileage while out of town on lobbyist-funded trips, and for failing to create a subcommittee to audit all senators’ reimbursement vouchers.

The decision isn’t sitting well with everyone. Here’s the statement that state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, the advocate for the $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, posted on his Facebook page:

“Today the Senate Ethics Committee entered into a settlement with Sen. Don Balfour regarding the multiple ethics complaints which had been filed regarding the alleged abuse of per diem policy to include the filing of false reports and the failure to convene an Audit Subcommittee of the Senate Rules Committee in order to comply …

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House Republicans consider total ban on lobbyist spending

This blog is about to go silent for a few days, to rest up for the Aug. 21 runoffs.

But we’ll leave you with this tidbit: You know that House Republicans, especially Speaker David Ralston, have endured a great deal of criticism for their opposition to a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to state lawmakers.

Last week, 87 percent of GOP voters in the July 31 primary endorsed the cap, which Ralston has called a “gimmick.” To give the speaker his due, it is indeed a low bar. A lobbyist would be able to spend $100 on a lawmaker’s breakfast, and still be allowed to buy him a $100 lunch.

We’ve gotten reliable information – and not from a single source — that House Republican leaders are considering legislation next January that would ban all lobbyist spending on lawmakers altogether. Nothing. Zip. Nada. And that Ralston is among those who have expressed interest in this path.

The impact on the culture of the state Capitol would be tremendous.

Leaders of the state Senate …

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