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Monday, April 8, 2013 - 6:24am

Local Reviews Mixed on State Ethics Reform

About 250 cities across Georgia already have their own ethics policies, according to the Georgia Municipal Association. However, when a pair of ethics bills becomes law, every elected city official in Georgia will have to adhere to at least the same standards as those at the state level.

"I think our ethics rules are actually tighter than the state's ethics rules, which is, you know, disappointing,” lamented Fayette County Commission Chair Steve Brown. "They have more loopholes than a piece of Swiss cheese."

The legislation lawmakers passed limits elected officials to just $75 per gift from lobbyists. Brown said under the Fayette County policy, commissioners are currently held to a $100 gift cap, but he and his fellow commissioners were already planning to decrease that amount to about $25.

“I think a lot of jurisdictions are going to be looking at some wholesale changes,” explained Brown.

Brown said a $25 cap would allow commissioners to participate in ceremonial gift exchanges that he considers to be part of the job when representing the community.

Campaign Finance Reporting

The less controversial piece of ethics legislation that passed this session dealt exclusively with campaign finance reporting.

House Bill 143 removed the requirement that all elected officials have to report their campaign contributions and expenditures. Only those who raise or spend more than $2,500 must file a disclosure form.

Amy Henderson, the public information manager for the Georgia Municipal Association, said that will cut down on administrative strains caused by candidates who were forced to file paperwork even without a single expenditure.

"[The Ethics Commission] had a huge number of locally elected officials who were having to file with them and it was a lot of paperwork and the information wasn't always accurate that was being posted on their website,” said Henderson. “Officials were being told that they hadn't filed when in fact they had and they were getting fined. So, this will eliminate a lot of that paperwork."

The legislation also changed where candidates are required to file. Instead of thousands of people filing with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, candidates will file their finance reports with their local government, which will then send the information to the state.