Advocates push for independent ethics funding in Georgia

State Sen. Josh McKoon's push to let voters decide whether the Georgia ethics commission should be funded independently of the governor's office got a hearing Tuesday in committee — more than a year after he filed the proposal.

But since Ethics Committee Chairman Rick Jeffares, R-McDonough, has been noncommittal about whether the measure will get a vote, McKoon, R-Columbus, is in a familiar position: advocating for change with no guarantee of results since he's still relatively new to the Legislature and hasn't won the confidence of his colleagues.

McKoon’s Senate Resolution 7 would create a permanent funding source for the ethics commission that amounts to about $4.9 million a year.

It’s not the only proposal of its kind — Senate Democrats are pushing a similar measure to distance the commission from the state’s top elected officials, who currently appoint its members. It hasn’t, however, gotten much support from GOP leadership and needs support from two-thirds of the Legislature to be put on a ballot, where voters would have the final say.

Since his election in 2010, McKoon has persistently pushed ethics reform under the Gold Dome with the help of watchdogs and other advocates, including the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, the League of Women Voters of Georgia and Common Cause Georgia. The coalition is widely credited with helping pass historic ethics reforms last year that, for the first time, limited lobbyists’ influence on legislators. Members of the coalition spoke in favor of McKoon’s resolution Tuesday.

McKoon said the commission did important work and has previously been targeted for cuts: In 2006-07, lawmakers cut its budget by 40 percent after a particularly rigorous period of review.

The commission’s current funding is about $1.7 million a year. McKoon said establishing a separate funding source independent of the state’s general budget would allow the commission to “do its job without fearing … reprisal.”

His plan also follows examples in other states, including Alabama, which constitutionally funds its ethics commission at about $2.68 million.

“The fraction that we picked (in the resolution) is a very diminutive amount to restore public faith and public trust in government,” McKoon said.