Watchdogs

Published — December 13, 2001 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Georgia

A snapshot of ethics practices in Georgia

Introduction

Georgia is one of 27 states in which no outside agency oversees ethical conduct of state legislators. It is one of 9 of those states where an outside ethics agency does oversee disclosure for members of the legislature, in this case both personal financial disclosure and campaign finance disclosure.

Georgia is among the 22 states that established outside oversight of ethical conduct and/or disclosure requirements of legislators in the post-Watergate 1970s.

Of the 32 states that have outside oversight of ethical conduct and/or disclosure requirements for legislators — 23 that cover ethics and disclosure, plus nine that cover disclosure only — Georgia is one of 12 where the legislature appoints at least one commission member. Only three states — California, Hawaii and Massachusetts — have members picked without the input of the legislature.

Budget

Georgia is among 22 states that did approve a budget for its ethics agency exceeding the rate of inflation, or 7 percent, between 1997 and 2000. Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin. Six state ethics agency budgets — in Arkansas, Georgia, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey and Washington — at least doubled during this time period.

Investigation

Of the 32 two states with outside ethics and/or disclosure oversight, only two ethics agencies — in Florida and West Virginia — cannot initiate an investigation or investigate an anonymous complaint. Only one agency, Alabama’s, cannot issue subpoenas.

Enforcement

Only Nebraska’s ethics agency can directly prosecute criminal cases against legislators; 25 more agencies can recommend criminal prosecution to the appropriate authority, including Georgia’s ethics agency. Only Rhode Island’s ethics agency has the power to remove legislators from office; another 11 state agencies can recommend removal as part of punishment, unlike Georgia’s, which cannot.

Opinions and Investigative Findings

All 32 outside agencies that oversee some ethics and/or disclosure requirements for legislators can issue advisory opinions. Georgia is one of 18 states that does publish legislator names within the advisory opinion reports, which cannot be found on the agency’s Web site. Copies may be requested from the agency.

Actual Findings

Just three states — Connecticut, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — have not issued a finding against a legislator for violating disclosure-filing requirements in the past five years.

Meetings

Georgia is among the 14 state agencies, of 32 with oversight of ethics and/or disclosure laws for the legislature, that do not have at least one public meeting per month; minutes for those meetings are not on the Web site. Copies can be requested from state ethics agency.

More Info

Since the agency does not oversee legislators’ conduct, is legislative oversight defined in statute?

Yes, somewhat. Georgia has the Committee on Ethics of the Senate or House of Representatives. Georgia Code, Title 28, Chapter 1, Section 16 grants the committees subpoena power.
http://www.ganet.state.ga.us/cgi-bin/pub/ocode/ocgsearch?docname=OCode/G/28/1/16&highlight=committee|on|ethics

Are there state statutes that address ethical conduct for legislators?

Yes, limited. In addition to statutes about personal financial disclosure and campaign finance disclosure, Georgia Code s. 21-5-1, “Ethics in Government Act,” contains some conduct provisions.
http://www.ganet.state.ga.us/cgi-bin/pub/ocode/ocgsearch?docname=OCode/G/21/5/1

Note: Some information provided by the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws’ “Ethics Update” 2000. For more information or to purchase the reference, visit www.cogel.org.

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