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19 March 2012

Center for Public Integrity Says Georgia State Government a High Risk for Corruption

"It’s ripe for the opportunity for corruption."

Those are the words of Rick Thompson who, until 2009, served as Executive Secretary for the State Ethics Commission.

Thompson's words came as part of a larger report on the risk of corruption in Georgia state government. The report isn't pretty, folks. Georgia is ranked dead last when it comes to public access to information, lobbying disclosure, legislative accountability, and political financing just to name a few.

The report, authored by retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigations editor Jim Walls (who also runs Atlanta Unfiltered), is scathing as it indicts both Democrats and Republicans for turning a blind eye to unethical activities as well as creating a culture of corruption in the halls of power.

Writes Walls:

Georgia law books are chock-full of statutes written to curtail undue influence on political activity and public policy.

Time and again, Georgia journalists and watchdog groups have found that money finds a way to flow around those laws:

Political action committees set up by governors and legislative leaders collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in amounts and at times forbidden for other contributions. Two officials dumped $1 million of campaign money into PACs where they could spend it almost any way they wished. “It’s ripe for the opportunity for corruption,” former ethics enforcer Rick Thompson said.

Collectively, executives of insurance companies, public utilities and other regulated entities have become the largest single source of campaign money for regulators running for re-election. Utility officials raise money and work to help re-elect incumbents; a lobbyist for the cable TV industry managed one incumbent’s campaign in 2008.

These and similar findings underscore what can sometimes be a gaping divide between Georgia’s legal standards for public accountability, on the one hand, and everyday practice. Georgia ranks 50th with a grade of F and a numerical score of 49 from the State Integrity Investigation, a collaborative project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.

Walls, Jim (2012-3-19). Georgia: The story behind the score. The State Integrity Investigation. Retrieved on 2012-3-19.

Activists (including quite a few conservative organizations and groups) have made meaningful ethics reform a priority during the 2012 legislative session, only to hit a stone wall in the state House from Speaker David Ralston.

This report by Jim Walls and the Center for Public Integrity tells many of those activists what they already know: Georgia is ripe for corruption.

If this state; if this state's political leaders; if this state's Democrat and Republican parties do not put ethics reform at the top of their "To Do" list, it will be only a matter of time before elected officials from both parties resign from office in disgrace after a lengthy investigation of corruption allegations. If meaningful ethics reform is not passed by Georgia, it is only a matter a time before we start seeing corrupt elected officials carted off to jail by the dozens.