Perdue Plots Ethics Reforms; Public Trust Must Be Rebuilt, Governor Says
Williams, Dave, The Florida Times Union
Byline: Dave Williams, Times-Union staff writer
ATLANTA -- Gov. Sonny Perdue yesterday outlined a comprehensive package of ethics reforms aimed at restoring public confidence in a state government beset with negative publicity over real and perceived misdeeds.
On just his fourth day in office, the new Republican governor said he would push for tougher disclosure laws for public officials and lobbyists, more restrictions on campaign contributions and additional measures aimed at conflicts of interest.
The package comes on the heels of an executive order Perdue signed Monday setting ethical standards for state employees under his control, and his budget address Wednesday calling for a 45 percent increase for the State Ethics Commission.
"Georgians deserve to have a government in which they can trust," he said.
Historically, ethics reforms have been a tough sell in the General Assembly, where incumbents' ability to raise campaign money gives them a built-in advantage.
The Senate has been more receptive than the House, unanimously passing a bill last year significantly increasing financial disclosure requirements -- only to have it killed in the House.
Senate Democratic leader Michael Meyer von Bremen of Albany pre-filed similar legislation for this year's session.
"I hope the administration's renewed commitment helps give the effort the momentum we needed last year," said Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, a Democrat, who presides over the upper chamber.
The House, too, appears ready to jump on the ethics bandwagon. Speaker Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, yesterday announced the hiring of Savannah native Steven Scheer to fill the newly created position of ethics counsel to the House.
Scheer's career includes stints as a municipal judge and chairman of the Ethics Commission.
"He will be someone we can turn to in reviewing the governor's bills," said Speaker Pro Tempore DuBose Porter, D-Dublin.
Perdue's ethics package drew praise from good-government groups, which have been pushing for some of the proposed reforms for years.
Jennifer Giegerich, advocate for the Georgia Public Interest Research Group, said the most important provision is giving the Ethics Commission the power to investigate alleged conflicts of interest.
"That gets at the heart of what our Ethics Commission does, ensure that government is operating in the best interest of the public," she said.
Some of the provisions stem from widely publicized incidents that occurred during the past two years, on former Gov. Roy Barnes' watch. Ethics lapses became an issue for Perdue on the campaign trail. …