Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

At Least it’s a Start

January 16, 2013

The greatest value in the Georgia Senate approving a rule that Senators can’t accept gifts from lobbyists of more than a $100 is that it kept the issue in the public  eye. It really doesn’t stop Senators from being showered with gifts by lobbyists trying to influence how lawmakers vote. It doesn’t specify the number of gifts so a lobbyist can give any number of gifts valued at a hundred dollars each. It also doesn’t apply to junkets.

Columbus Senator Josh McKoon, who is leading the movement to strengthen ethics laws, isn’t going to let up on getting some effective ethics legislation passed in this session and thinks the rule  change  is a first step in the process. Let’s hope he can get it done.  Georgia is one of only three states that still allow  unlimited lobbyists’ gifts.

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“THEY ARE ALL CROOKS”

August 7, 2012

“THE RABBITS ARE IN CHARGE OF THE LETTUCE”

Columbus State Rep. Richard Smith and I got into a conversation about the Republican and Democratic primaries straw vote on capping the dollar amount of gifts that lobbyists shower on Georgia lawmakers. The state ethics law puts no limits on the amount on those gifts, but it does require  that they be reported.  Neither one of us was surprised that voters overwhelming supported limiting lobbyists contributions.  He didn’t support the $100 cap.  For one reason, he said, it was basically meaningless to cap the amount at $100.  “For instance,” he said, “instead of asking one lobbyist to donate $700, you ask seven lobbyists to give  $100 each.”

Besides, he said, the best way to stop the corruption is to elect honest people who won’t take money from lobbyists. He said he flat doesn’t do it, except for meals at restaurants. I must admit that I had been served a few free meals when I was reporting for TV stations, and I told myself that it would take a lot more than a free lunch to buy me. I would eat their lunch and still tell the truth about what  they were doing.  That reminds me of what the late Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin said when he lost his last race for governor. Back then it was common for candidates to serve barbecue at campaign rallies. He said, “A lot of people who ate my barbecue didn’t vote for me.” 

To make the point to Richard about the public’s attitude toward lawmakers in general, I used the example of when I was speaking  to students at Central High School about the importance of staying informed about what legislators do in Montgomery. One student said he didn’t pay attention because “they are all crooks.”   I was still working as a news anchor at WTVM  at the time.  Since I had spent a lot of time covering the legislatures in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina, I understood where he got that idea.

Richard said that he knew a lot of people felt that way, but disagreed that all were crooks. I agree with him on that. Enough are, though, to stain all of them.

Since Webster defines being a crook as “a person who engages in fraudulent or criminal practices,” we suspect that many  may not be crooked because their unethical acts are legal. They are legal because they make the rules.

I read in the AJC where a lobbyist could (and did) give Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston $17,000 to take his family to Europe and broke no laws doing it. The lobbyist had to report it, but that’s the extent of the law. Now you may think a legislative leader taking a gift of $17,000 is ethical. After all, as many of the receivers of such gifts will tell you, taking the money does not influence the way they vote on laws affecting the  organization the lobbyist represents.  Give me a break.    

I have to agree with Richard about the hundred-dollar cap. It would not stop the corruption. I don’t agree that the solution is to elect honest office seekers who won’t accept legal bribes. How does a voter really know if a candidate is honest?  Still, I think Sen. Josh McKoon did the right thing by getting the issue put on the primary ballots.  It enabled the legislators to know that voters are not happy with their cozy relationships with lobbyists. Maybe they’ll get serious about coming up with an ethics law that will work. I wouldn’t bet on it, though. Yes, the rabbits are in charge of the lettuce at the Capitol, and it’ll probably stay that way. 

Legal, Just, and Fair Aren’t Always the Same

July 30, 2012

“It’s perfectly legal” is a phrase that can be maddening.  You just got screwed by some organization and that’s their come back. And when you investigate, the odds are very high that they were right. That’s because too  often the laws aren’t written to protect you. They are written, in my view, too often to protect the people who spent the money via campaign contributions or in other ways to influence the people who write  the laws.

Once when I was in Washington covering representatives from the Columbus area, I was amazed at the throngs of men in black suits carrying briefcases walking up and down the corridors of the Capitol building.  Turns out they were lobbyists.  It also turns out  that they often either write or influence the writing of those laws that affect their vested interest. When I asked one congressman about that, he pointed out that there was no one better qualified to write the laws than the people who are engaged in the organization who know all about the subject.  That may be, but it boils down to “putting the rabbits in charge of the lettuce” as my friend retired South Carolina state legislator, appeals court judge, and college president Alex Sanders use to say.

What can be done about it?  For one thing, stop voting against your own self interest by putting the sold-out legislators in office.  How do you know that your man or woman is a political whore? Now, that’s not easy. It’s takes dedicated watchdog media types to find out. They appear to be in short supply.  Why?  Simple. Media corporations have to be willing to employ skilled watchdog reporters. Some few do. Why don’t others? What do you  think?

Sometimes political rivals will blow the whistle on a political hooker when it’s suits their purposes. But, you can’t count on that.

By all means, when you vote tomorrow, let me urge you to vote in favor of limiting lobbyists’ gifts to Georgia legislators to $100. We can thank state Sen. Josh McKoon for getting that on that on the Republican and Democratic primary ballots.  It won’t  become law but it will tell Georgia state legislators that’s what the people want.