The State of Georgia is at high risk of corruption according to a recent investigation by the State Integrity Investigation, a project ranking state government transparency and ethics.
The State Integrity Investigation (SII) ranked states in 14 categories, including campaign finance, ethics laws and lobbying regulations, and assigned letter grades in each category. Georgia received an "F" in 9 of the 14 categories, as well as a "D" or "D-" grade in state budget processes, procurement and executive accountability, and a "C-" in judicial accountability. The highest grade Georgia received was a "B" in internal auditing.
According to the SII report, Georgia law books are filled with statutes "written to curtail undue influence on political activity and public policy," but the system is so full of loopholes that the laws are all but worthless -- and often go unenforced in any case.
"Some 658 state workers accepted sports tickets, speaking fees, fancy meals and other gratuities over a two-year span," the report stated. "It’s been 12 years since the state last fined a vendor for failing to disclose such gifts."
Supposedly regulated industries are effectively funding the campaigns of would-be regulators, the report found:
"Collectively, executives of insurance companies, public utilities and other regulated entities have become the largest single source of campaign money for regulators running for re-election. Utility officials raise money and work to help re-elect incumbents; a lobbyist for the cable TV industry managed one incumbent’s campaign in 2008."
While Georgia has agencies charged with oversight and transparency, those agencies have been largely hobbled by budget cuts and political intrigue. The Office of the Inspector General is tasked with investigating government wrongdoing, but has no enforcement capability; the office is empowered only to recommend action against wrongdoers, according to the SII report.
The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission was forced by budget cuts to eliminate nearly all its investigative positions and focus on clerical work, and apparently political firings have hampered its ability to enforce transparency and finance regulations.
"Ultimately, the agency’s top two staffers were forced out in June 2011 just as they were seeking subpoenas for campaign and personal records of newly elected Gov. Nathan Deal; commission members said the timing was coincidental," the SII report stated.
Georgia's open records law also came under fire in the report. SII claimed the law was inconsistently enforced, and compliance is monitored only through an informal mediation process in the Attorney General's Office. The law also exempts the legislative and judicial branches of state government, effectively enabling them to refuse production of records.
This article was originally published on Fort Stewart Patch.