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Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 3:00am

Tea Party Renews Ethics Push

Georgia Tea Party groups warned legislators Thursday that there will be consequences if they don’t pass ethics reform this session. They joined a broad coalition of reform groups at the State Capitol to watch as two lawmakers filed a new ethics bill.

The sweeping bill would cap lobbyists’ expenditures on lawmakers to $100. It would require them to disclose gifts for lawmakers’ families, and would prevent public officials from holding state contracts.

Tea Party groups placed a letter about the bill on every lawmaker’s desk.

But Julianne Thompson with the Georgia Tea Party Patriots had a direct message for Republicans.

“We are the conservative base – we make up the conservative base of the Republican Party," she said at the State Capitol. "And we are paying closing attention to who supports legislation that we’re strongly on board with that calls for ethics and accountability.”

Republican Rep. Tommy Smith of Nicholls authored the bill but the GOP leadership says current law works because it requires disclosure of gifts.

Watchdog groups Common Cause and the League of Women Voters are also backing the bill.

Senate Democratic Chairman Doug Stoner proposed a separate piece of legislation on Monday that would make the state's ethics commission an independent agency.

Senate Bill 315 would remove control of ethics enforcement from the General Assembly. The commission would be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Chief Judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals. Currently, members are appointed by legislators and the governor.

Supporters said the bill would legitimize ethics enforcement by removing control of the ethics process from those subject to its power. Outside groups have called for ethics reform in recent years after an ethics scandal involving former House Speaker Glenn Richardson forced him to resign from the position in 2009.