To Disclose or Not to Disclose? The State House Forces the Right Call
On Friday afternoon, the Senate took a final vote on an amended SB 213, a bill much overshadowed by the Atlanta airport, heartbeats, and coal ash. In case you’re unfamiliar with SB 213, it has to do with donation disclosures by our state representatives and senators.
Since 2014, there has been a report due on January 31st to the state ethics commission to disclose donations members receive prior to the legislative session. At the request of the commission, SB 213 originally would have done away with the January report in non-election years like 2019 along with other (better) things, like requiring all PACs to disclose what they spend. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported shortly after the bill’s initial passage in the Senate, shuttering the January disclosure would have delayed reporting on pre-session donations, totaling $1.5 million this year, until July — well after the session was over. As it currently stands, the January reports usually become available to the public sometime during February.
The way this might play politically was clearly lost on the Senate and the ethics commission, both of which felt the disclosure requirement was easy to overlook, causing several legislators to miss the deadline. Others of us may feel this is merely a lack of attention to detail on the members’ parts, but po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe, I suppose.
The Senate passed the bill nearly unanimously, with a few folks excused that day. No one saw how this might be a PR nightmare waiting in the wings. However, when lobbyists started to speak up against delaying the disclosure, it was just the first sign of trouble. The House was already signaling that there were issues before the bill was even delivered to them.
The House Government Affairs Committee removed language regarding the report, essentially restoring the January 31st reporting deadline. Senator Bill Heath, who is the sponsor of SB 213, told the committee he made a mistake in including the language to strip the reporting deadline. When the amended bill came up for a vote, the House passed it 162-1. The bill then returned to the Senate, where the amended version passed, and now it heads to Governor Kemp for signature or veto.
Among the many good things accomplished by our previous governor we shouldn’t blind ourselves from the some of the tarnish that recent deification polishing hasn’t removed, at least for some of us. Let us not forget that the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission was effectively neutered by proxy for looking too hard at the governor’s 2010 campaign shenanigans with the taxpayers getting the 3+ million dollar bill for the purge. The firing of another attorney on the commission who had been adversarial to the governor after being apprehended by the Capitol police for allegedly drinking alcohol at lunch only goes further to indicate the lengths the King can take when threatened. And then recently we had the ethics chief who sat on multiple campaign finance complaints “resign” for being so stupid as to view porn in his state office on state computers. He still received $45K as a lovely parting gift in the face of something upon which a regular Joe would have been walked to the door immediately.
I state this only to point out that the Senators must be pretty fearful indeed if they don’t want to report the gratuities they have received over the table to such a milquetoast commission, at least if they are of the party in power at the time. One campaign promise that Gov. Deal clearly reneged on was his 2014 one for an effective ethics commission.