Jim Zachary: Full disclosure of campaign money necessary

Ethics matter.

Transparency matters.

Campaign finance disclosures matter.

And the timely filing of those disclosures by state lawmakers matters.

Last week, the state ethics commission released complaints against 13 Georgia legislators alleging they have not disclosed, fully disclosed or met disclosure deadlines in accordance with campaign finance disclosure requirements.

Rep. James Burchett, R-Waycross; Rep. Dexter Sharper, D-Valdosta; Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon; Sen. Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville; Sen. Horacena Tate, D-Atlanta; Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany; Rep. Pat Gardner, D-Atlanta; Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Lithonia; Rep. Colton Moore, R-Trenton; Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, D-Norcross; Rep. Steven Sainz, R-Woodbine; and Rep. Mickey Stephens, D-Savannah, were named in the complaints.

In some of these cases, the paperwork that had been filed is suspicious because the form indicates that no money was taken in and no money was spent.

Even if some of these cases end up being sloppy paperwork or a failure to meet a deadline, everyone involved should understand these things matter, and the people of Georgia should be able to easily find out the source of all contributions to lawmakers.

Anyone who does not think Georgia politicians are beholden to special interests is either naive or just not paying attention.

When it comes to politics -- and most things -- money talks.

Unfortunately, it also appears that money may vote in the House and Senate chambers.

Previously this year, reporter James Salzer with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in a March 13 AJC article, "In all, statewide elected officials, lawmakers, their caucus PACs and the major state parties collected about $1.5 million in the two weeks before the start of the session, some taking in checks less than 24 hours before the General Assembly was gaveled in for a new session."

In that same article Salzer reported, "The Thursday before the 2019 General Assembly session opened in January, the House Republican leaders' political action committee held a fundraiser at the stately Capital City Club in downtown Atlanta, taking in about $168,000 from big-money businesses and lobbyists hoping to persuade lawmakers to give them tax breaks or help them smite their competitors or reduce government oversight."

The fact that making campaign contributions more opaque was even seriously considered, much less overwhelmingly supported, by the Senate is beyond disturbing.

The public has every right and reason to know where lawmakers are getting their money and how that might influence the way they vote.

The larger questions are why would any lawmaker want to conceal contributions or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, not.

The people of Georgia have every right to expect complete transparency around campaign financing.

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is regional editor of CNHI's Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas newspapers, editor of The Valdosta Daily Times and the vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

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