Georgia has a new 'unleashed' ethics watchdog group

William Perry has a new ethics watchdog group.
William Perry has a new ethics watchdog group.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Georgia has a new watchdog group sniffing out government wrongdoing.

William Perry on Wednesday announced the launch of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, which he said will "shine the light on public officials who cross the line" by filing complaints when state ethics laws are violated.

Perry was forced out as head of the Georgia chapter of Common Cause last month, a move he said was triggered by the organization's recent shift to a more muscular stance on policy issues. It came after what critics described as a purge of conservative-leaning members earlier this year.

Perry will form what he calls a "strategic partnership" with former Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigative editor Jim Walls, who runs the for-profit, by focusing attention on the stories that Walls digs up. Walls said Wednesday he'll start with a 26-part series to begin later this year called "Georgia's Ethics Loopholes from A to Z."

In the new gig, Perry said he will be able to fully focus on government watchdog work - he called it "bad cop" work - instead of dividing time with public policy issues. He said he long wrestled over dual roles of criticizing a powerful politician on one day and then asking them for their support on an issue the next.

"I am no longer going to be restrained by dread about not succeeding with public policy," he said. "As important as that success is, I'll leave that to the good cops. I'm unleashed now, and ready to kick down some doors and take some names."

He’ll also start a separate venture called the Georgia Ethics Watchdogs Education Fund, a nonprofit that will train interested activists in the art of being an effective watchdog. Perry said it will help them find a voice “to punish officials who are violating the law and hold them accountable.”

Perry may have to walk a fine line. Rick Thompson, the former head of the Georgia Ethics Commission, said Perry will have to be cautious about what he does next. The state's new ethics law allows targets of complaints deemed frivolous to pursue legal fees from the filer.

"This unbridled enthusiasm is appreciated, but he's going to have to be very careful how he proceeds," said Thompson. "Because he can actually do more damage to the process than good."

Perry said he’ll set a high bar for which complaints he chooses to file. And he vowed he wouldn't do any special favors for donors of his group, though he said he would likely shield their names.

“I’d cut myself off if I said everybody will be disclosed, because their livelihood may depend on a contract with the city of Atlanta or a grant," said Perry. "We can’t completely disclose everything because the backlash of supporting a group like ours is too great."

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