Earlier this week, the House gave its final approval to HB 370, which grants amnesty to thousands of elected officials who were hit with fines for filing their campaign contribution and financial reports late – or not at all – between 2010 and 2014. Those years were a special time for the State Ethics Commission (as I described in detail in 2015), and this bill is the result of a compromise reached between the Ethics Commission, the Georgia Municipal Association, and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
From the AJC:
The House voted 141-20 to give final approval to House Bill 370. The bill would wipe the slate clean for thousands of county commissioners, mayors, school board members and other local officials who did not file campaign finance reports from 2010-2014, as long as they make amends by filing those missing reports by Dec. 31… The commission’s computer system for years was overwhelmed and many of those local officials who were fined claimed they field on time but the commission’s system didn’t work properly.
I appreciate they reasons why the House vote wasn’t unanimous, but humor me as I write a few paragraphs in defense of HB 370.
Between 2010 and 2014, that online system was a hot mess. It was extremely difficult to navigate and file, and given the level technological expertise we have available to us in Georgia, that system’s degree of FUBAR was inexcusable. A group of Georgia Tech freshmen could have developed a better system in a weekend than the nonsense that was foisted on elected officials in Georgia.
In addition, there were many elected officials who were marked in violation of ethics laws when they had filed, but that disaster of a system didn’t acknowledge the filing. That’s a problem – and the Ethics Commission (or whatever they were calling themselves at that point) completely ignored the consequences of falsely labeling people as non-filers. Frankly (and I’ve talked to actual lawyers about this subject, so it’s not just my own conjecture) the Commission is lucky they were never hit with a defamation suit.
Furthermore, giving a quick look at the current list of late or non-filers from my city, I see the names of people who are not only dead, but who are currently fined for failure to submit a campaign contribution disclosure during a time when they were not holding elected office or campaigning, and had filed notice that they were no longer a candidate. Those kind of errors are widespread throughout this system, and the commission clearly lacked the bandwidth (literal and figurative) to clean up all of these errors.
While there are undoubtedly scofflaw candidates and officeholders in Georgia, it’s apparently impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the clean slate offered by HB 370 is, in my view as well as that of a majority of House and Senate members, the only way forward. The real indication of who was a victim of the failed system and who just doesn’t care about filing on time, or at all, will come in January 2017 – that’s when the amnesty period to get those late filings in to the Ethics Commission will have passed, and that’s the list of non-filers that I can’t wait to read.