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Crawford: Politicians often dont mean what they say
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When President George W. Bush delivered his state of the union address in 2006, he made the bold promise that technological breakthroughs in alternative fuels would enable the U.S. to "replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."

Within hours of making that pledge, Bush's top advisers were meeting with reporters to tell them that while the president did indeed say those very words about reducing Middle Eastern oil imports, he didn't really mean them.

"It was not meant to suggest anything related to the politics of the situation," said Bush's energy secretary, Samuel Bodman. "It was merely meant to give an example."

President Barack Obama often said during his 2008 campaign that "no one is above the law," but his justice department attorneys have refused to prosecute any government officials who were accused of authorizing the illegal torture of prisoners.

I use Bush and Obama as examples of how politicians from all parties will say things that, deep down inside, they know they don't mean at all.

At the state level, whenever you hear a politician utter the word "transparency," you can usually be sure that he or she is opposed to any kind of transparency or openness in government.

I remember that when he was first elected governor, Sonny Perdue claimed that transparency was one of the greatest virtues an officeholder could have.

He didn't really mean it. Perdue, among other things, signed a bill that gave himself a $100,000 tax break without ever disclosing it publicly (it wasn't until two years after he signed it that a newspaper reporter finally broke the story about the governor's generosity).

Perdue also signed several other bills that closed off various types of information contained in state and local government records to public view. Transparent he was not.

House Speaker David Ralston has also paid public tribute to the concept of transparency. In the bill he pushed through a couple of years ago to revise Georgia's ethics laws, he even changed the official name of the State Ethics Commission to the somewhat clunkier "Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission." Ralston didn't care much about "government transparency" either, as we soon discovered.

Over the past few years, Georgia lawmakers have made a series of severe cutbacks in funding for the commission that is supposed to enforce government transparency, requiring the agency to reduce its staff from 26 to nine people.

At the same time, legislators have amended the campaign disclosure laws so that more administrative paperwork requirements have been imposed on the few remaining staffers who have not been laid off.

The result is that the handful of people still working for the ethics commission have very little time or resources to investigate complaints that political candidates are violating Georgia's campaign finance laws. This ensures that there will be less transparency regarding the way politicians raise and spend money during an election campaign.

The "government transparency" commission hit perhaps its lowest point recently when the director, Stacey Kalberman, and her deputy director attempted to investigate complaints filed against Gov. Nathan Deal concerning his campaign for governor last year.

Kalberman asked the commission members for the go-ahead to issue subpoenas for information related to their review of Deal's campaign records.

She could not get any of them to sign off on the subpoenas. Shortly afterward, commission members decided that because of "budget problems" they would have to eliminate the positions or drastically cut the pay of Kalberman and the deputy director (Kalberman eventually agreed to resign).

In a memo that was transparently disclosed, Kalberman told the commission chairman: "I do not believe it to be a coincidence that your increased concern with the budget coincides with my staff's preparation and delivery to you for your signatures subpoenas related to the ongoing Nathan Deal investigation."

Kalberman is surely accurate in that assessment. All state agencies have seen their budgets reduced since 2008, but the sudden timing of this budget cutback at the commission whose function is to provide "government transparency" is highly suspect.

It should not have been a surprise to anyone, however. Georgia politicians may tell you that they are all in favor of transparency in government, but they don't really mean it.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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