State Rep. Joe Wilkinson isn’t backing down from remarks he made about ethics reform at a recent meeting of north Fulton legislators.
The chairman of the House Ethics Committee said during the Jan. 24 meeting that Georgia doesn’t need changes to its ethics laws and accused the media of creating a “misperception.” Wilkinson on Monday said that he wants substantive reforms, not “feel good” legislation.
“My goal is far higher than that,” Wilkinson said. “It is to restore the public’s confidence in their elected officials.”
Representatives of two groups pushing for reforms – Common Cause Georgia and the League of Women Voters of Georgia – said Wilkinson’s comments during the Jan. 24 meeting show he is out of touch with residents.
Reporter Newspapers published the story and posted video of the comments from the meeting. In the video Wilkinson blasted media coverage of ethics reform and compared it to deciding to believe in the Easter Bunny.
To see the video, click here.
William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, called Wilkinson’s remarks “flabbergasting.”
“He’s definitely towing the party line and it’s something I think shows how completely out of touch he is,” Perry said. “The problem is people who act in an ethical manner don’t fear raising ethical standards.”
Elizabeth Poythress, president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia, said the reforms are about restoring trust and transparency.
“That’s why we need ethics reform,” Poythress said. “It’s not about making us feel better, it’s about building trust and trust is the foundation of democracy. Chairman Wilkinson should really get fairy tales off of his mind and listen to the voices of Georgians that spoke in the last election, 82 percent saying that they wanted ethics reform.”
What reform will look like hasn’t been determined. Wilkinson said he’s still writing the law and declined to give specifics. The groups pushing for reform want to limit what lobbyists spend on state legislators and pass laws addressing conflicts of interest.
Wilkinson said the state already has a law addressing a conflict of interest and redirected criticism at Perry for Perry’s late filing of campaign disclosure forms. According to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, Perry has $500 in outstanding fines accrued since 2011.
Perry said he paid the fines and that Wilkinson is missing the point. He said late filings are not equivalent to lobbyists spending unlimited amounts of money to influence members of the state Legislature.
“Our group has never criticized anybody for a simple mistake,” Perry said. “It’s ridiculous for him to out of one side of his mouth say we can’t have these gotcha type laws when he’s the first one to jump up and say ‘gotcha.’”
Wilkinson’s remarks drew scrutiny from Jim Walls, editor of the Atlanta Unfiltered Blog. Walls helped the Center for Public Integrity produce a 2012 report that found Georgia ranked last among all 50 states when it comes to transparency.
Until Reporter Newspapers posted the video, Walls was unaware that Wilkinson commissioned a report to challenge the CPI report.
Click here to read the Atlanta Unfiltered article about Walls’ exchange with Wilkinson.
To read the disputed CPI report, click here.
Wilkinson declined to provide a copy of the report to Reporter Newspapers. The state Legislature is exempt from the state’s Open Records Act.
“It is not a public report,” Wilkinson said. “It is something I used to try to do an appeal. The fact of the matter is it’s moot now.”