Josh McKoon on Why We Should Support New Ethics Legislation

I don’t know when public confidence in state and federal representatives and senators has been lower than it is right now. Perhaps lawmakers can turn this around if they enact some tough ethics legilsation that effectively stops the buying of our  Congressional and state legislators.  Josh McKoon,  attorney,  former chair of the Muscogee County Republican Party and a member of Common Cause Columbus,  told me he is seeking support for a new, thougher ethics bill  pending in the Georgia legislature. SB 96 passed unanimously in the Georgia Senate and now is before the Georgia House. I asked him to tell me why he thinks we should support the measure.  He sent this explanation:

SB 96 is legislation that accomplishes several important goals.
 
First, it provides for training for registered lobbyists by the State Ethics Commission to insure full compliance with the new reporting requirements for provision of meals, etc. to legislators.
 
Second, it tightens up the definition of lobbyist to make sure it is inclusive only of those paid to lobby and does not require grassroots activists to register.  For example, under the current law you could argue that your piece and Bob Hydrick’s comments about the Billboard legislation amount to lobbying and that the “compensation” received is keeping highways free of clutter.  I agree it is absurd, but the way the law reads it could certainly be interpreted that way.  The new revised langauge will resolve that issue.
 
Third, it beefs up reporting requirements for lobbyists.  I don’t dispute the idea that anyone who wants to pay for lobbyists in Atlanta should be able to do that, but we need a more transparent accounting of what is being received by our elected representatives on their behalf.
 
Finally and most importantly in my view, it establishes ethics panels to review and dispose of ethics complaints against local elected officials.  This is an important check on the power of our elected representatives and protects against violations of the ethics law which the State Ethics Commission does not have jurisdiction over nor the manpower to handle.  These panels will fill a gap in current law where there is no remedy, short of filing a civil lawsuit in Superior Court, to handle matters where elected officials abrogate or ignore the law.  We have seen what happens when this is allowed to go on in Clayton County among other places. 
 
Critically, these panels will be composed of unpaid volunteers so there is no growth in the size of government.  Also the panels are empowered to fine frivolous complainers to the tune of $1,000.00 per complaint, to weed out those who would use this mechanism to harass elected officials that are not violating ethics laws.

If you agree with Josh, please contact your Georgia state representative and let him or her know.   At first blush,  the bill sounds good to me, but I am not sure it is strong enough to actually cut down on the influence of lobbyists for vested interests on our legislators.  At least  it’s a step in the right direction.

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