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London Bridge may be falling down but is the Georgia Ethics Commission?

What does the popular nursery rhyme about London Bridge and the Georgia State Ethics Commission have in common? The same repetitive chorus line of doom and destruction is being repeated – especially, by the press, pundits and “watchdogs”.

Almost every article written about ethics or politics in Georgia includes talk about the “deep” budget cuts of the Commission.   With the current budget of one million dollars, does the Commission have enough to operate effectively and still have enough money to hire a good oral surgeon to implant fierce sharp teeth, so it is no longer considered a “toothless tiger”?  When I was at the Commission, the budget ranged from less than $600,000 to over $1.7 million. The appropriate budget for the responsibilities assigned to the Commission is approximately $1.4 million.

But how do we get there? I understand what you are about to read is not as sexy of a story as “Politicians run amuck” or “Ethics is doomed in Georgia”. Nevertheless, although it may not sell as many papers, it still needs to be shared. What everyone seems to be missing is the Georgia General Assembly took monumental steps in making the Commission an independent, self-funded agency.  The General Assembly in 2010 passed a bill which would mandate the Commission to keep $25 of every late fee assessed.   With this move by the legislature, the Commission joined a very small number of Ethics Commissions nationwide to be self-funded, albeit for now partially self-funded.

Here is how it could work. In a March 2011 article, Commission staff is referenced as stating there are over 25,000 late fees outstanding. Under the new law the Commission is mandated to keep $25 of each late fee (25,000 * $25 = $625,000). Adding this amount to the $1 million dollar core budget appropriated by the General Assembly would give the Commission a budget of $1,625,000. This exceeds the ideal budget for the commission which is $1.4 million. This could be only the tip of the iceberg. The 25,000 estimate came before late fees were being levied on Personal Financial Disclosures (due 7/1/2011) and before the June 30 non-election report was due (7/8/2011).

I am extremely confused why the media, pundits and yes, even the “watchdogs” are ostriching (sticking their heads in the sand) on this topic. I am especially confused on why no one wants to carry the flag on how the Commission has the chance to shove a boulder in between any future budget cuts by firmly grasping the opportunity to become partially self-funded.

Another potential solution, the State of Georgia could privatize and contract to administer, enforce, educate, receive filings and investigate complaints for $1 million dollars (the Commission’s current budget) and $25 per every late fee collected. But then the articles and criticism would be about how the state is misusing tax payer dollars by awarding a private company a million dollar contract with collection fees for a job which could be done by the state much cheaper.  However, I can personally suggest at least one well qualified company if the State is interested.

R. Thompson & Associates LLC is not a law firm nor are its partners and employees licensed to practice law. Content that is presented herein is for informational purposes. Nothing herein shall be construed as legal advice nor is intended to be legal advice