This could be a very important piece of information I am about to share with you. Whether it is or not is up to you. It depends on how much you care about the money being spent on our state’s politicians. If you don’t care and want to cop the “it doesn’t make any difference” attitude, then I suggest you blow the dust off the ol’ Funk & Wagnall and look up the word “apathy.” Or go kiss a goat. Your choice.
The rest of us know we can make a difference. General Assembly members didn’t pass ethics reform in last year’s session because they were bored and looking for something to do between the baseball season and bird hunting. They felt the heat from many of you, dear readers.
Our intrepid public servants have put a coat of whitewash on the matter of ethics reform and want us to consider the issue done. It’s not. There are loopholes galore. There is more to do and it will get done only if you keep the heat on.
Remember, this is an election year. You will likely get your mail and phone calls returned this year — unlike last year, when a number of you sent me notes telling me you were being ignored, or worse, lectured like 5-year-olds by some huffy politicians.
The information I am giving you comes via the clumsily-named Georgia Government Transparency and (inhale) Campaign Finance Commission, which is really the State Ethics Commission. No matter what you call the group, it is a mess these days and our state’s policymakers should be angry and embarrassed at its dysfunction.
Predictably, they will publicly decry this car wreck of a commission. Whether they do anything substantive or not remains to be seen.
I was a member of the State Ethics Commission from 1997 to 2002, appointed by Gov. Zell Miller. We had limited authority, little money and a small staff. But we were an ornery bunch, thanks to a strong chairman, Mike McRae, a Cedartown attorney, and a feisty executive director, Teddy Lee, who didn’t care on whose self-important toes he stepped in getting to the truth.
We nailed some powerful politicians who presumed they were too important to fill out the required campaign disclosure forms on time. We were not beloved under the Gold Dome and wore the resentment like a badge of honor.
We were the mouse that roared. I’ve never had more fun and felt I was doing more good than in my days on the State Ethics Commission.
That is why ethical behavior in politics is up-close-and-personal with me and why I harp so much on the subject in this space. In politics, money talks and you and I need to be listening in on the conversation. I hope you will save this piece or bookmark the information on your computer and will check regularly on what innocuous-sounding special interest groups are spending how much money on which politicians.
One hint: Public education issues generate big bucks because education is big business and a lot of out-of-state groups want a piece of the action. School teachers need to be on the alert.
No matter what the lawmakers tell you, money does buy influence in the political process. Otherwise, why would special interest groups shell out all that money? If your legislators claim otherwise, throw up on their shoes.
Finding the information on who is giving campaign contributions to our legislators and who is entertaining them is not easy. I suspect that was intentional. I hope this will help:
First, sign on to the State Ethics Commission webpage.
1. Hit “Search Reports and Records”
2. Scroll down to “Candidate Reports”
3. Scroll over to “Campaign Reports”
4. Under “Candidate Search” type in name
5. Hit “Search for Candidate”
6. Hit “View”
7. Hit Blue Bar: “Campaign Contributions Report (E-Filed)”
8. Hit “View Report”
9. View “Contributions”
To see who is providing them entertainment:
1. Hit “Search Reports and Records”
2. Scroll down to “Lobbyist Reports”
3. Hit “By Expenditures
4. Type in name of public official
5. View expenditures.
If I haven’t given you a serious case of eye-glaze, I hope you will let me know if you have any questions or problems navigating this maze and if you have any specific reaction to what you see while you are there.
And don’t forget: You are the ultimate judge of what constitutes ethical behavior under the Gold Dome. That is the way it should be.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint. Contact him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.