Ethics bill stalls near end of Georgia legislative session

3/1/2018 - Atlanta - While making a few jokes about obesity, Senate Rules Chairman Senator Jeff Mullis takes to the well to present HB 273 which would provide for a daily recess for students in kindergarten and grades one through five.  Legislative photos from today, the 29th day of the 2018 General Assembly.  BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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3/1/2018 - Atlanta - While making a few jokes about obesity, Senate Rules Chairman Senator Jeff Mullis takes to the well to present HB 273 which would provide for a daily recess for students in kindergarten and grades one through five. Legislative photos from today, the 29th day of the 2018 General Assembly. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

In the final hours of the 2021 General Assembly session the Georgia House backed legislation aimed at giving state ethics investigators more tools to make cases and clarifying that some uses for leftover campaign money are illegal.

But the Senate never took it up. It is the second session similar legislation stalled.

A rewritten Senate Bill 120, pushed by Judiciary Chairman Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, addresses issues raised by two ongoing cases that have made headlines in recent years.

One involves former longtime Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, a onetime GOP frontrunner in the 2010 gubernatorial race who has been fighting ethics charges for more than a decade.

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The other involves former Republican state Senate leader Dan Balfour, who left office in 2015 and didn’t report what he did with $630,000 in leftover campaign money. By law, former politicians aren’t allowed to keep the money for personal use.

Under Efstration’s proposal, he said, the commission would:

  • Have more time to make cases without the statute of limitations running out.
  • Make ex-candidates hold onto campaign bank records longer.
  • Clarify that candidates could not use campaign contributions to make personal loans to themselves or invest in their companies.
  • Mandate what candidates could do with money raised for primary or general election runoffs when they fail to make the runoffs.

The rewritten measure didn’t include a provision the Senate Ethics Committee wanted to ban fundraising committees of legislative leaders from raising money during legislative sessions from lobbyists and special interests. Earlier in the session, the GOP majority passed legislation to create such committees over Democratic objections.