To the editor:
As a longtime journalist who covered state Rep. Joe Wilkinson and who later went into the private sector and moved to Sandy Springs, as well as someone who has worked with his campaigns, I am deeply offended by Don McAdam’s letter (Sandy Springs Reporter, Nov. 1-14) insinuating that our representative is somehow dishonest.
McAdam, ironically, is the dishonest one by citing a Wilkinson quote that there hasn’t been “a single shred of evidence of wrongdoing against any legislator.” The letter writer went on to charge that the chairman of the House of Representatives Ethics Committee is “simultaneously wrong and contemptibly misleading” because state Sen. Don Balfour has been indicted.
Yet what McAdam didn’t tell readers is that Wilkinson actually first made that statement a year before the Balfour indictment! It is especially surprising that the Reporter editor didn’t call foul on that cheap shot.
The letter notes that a report by a local investigative news site exposed Balfour’s alleged expense account discrepancies. Yet, again, McAdam doesn’t tell the reader that the news site was able to get lobbyist information to verify the report for this story because Wilkinson has championed lobbyist transparency, and even pushed for ethics reforms to ensure that the information was available to the public three times faster than it was previously.
Out-of-legislative-session lobbyist disclosure reports were filed only once every 90 days, so Wilkinson took the lead to change it to every 30 days. In-session reports were due once every 30 days, but the Ethics Committee chairman again changed them to twice every 30 days. Additionally, the chairman moved to raise fines for lobbyist non-compliance to some of the highest in the country.
McAdam’s letter cites a 2012 report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) which looked at each state’s laws and attempted to determine how susceptible they were to corruptibility. This report concluded that Georgia ranked last in the nation.
McAdam then mocks Wilkinson for challenging the CPI report when in fact in 2010 the same national group ranked Georgia seventh in the country in terms of strong ethics/transparency laws. In compiling that ranking as well as previous ones, the CPI relied on objective, independent and professional regulators and administrators.
Yet in 2012, the CPI changed the methodology that it had always employed. Instead of seeking input from the objective ethics officials, CPI contracted with a hodgepodge of individuals in all 50 states to conduct the study. In Georgia, the individual selected was paid $5,000 to “review” Georgia’s laws.
This individual then concluded that Georgia – which was ranked the seventh best state two years before – had somehow jumped to last in the nation.
At that point, national media outlets and other experts questioned the entire CPI report, especially since it ranked New Jersey with a controversial, first-in-the-nation “clean” rating. That’s why Wilkinson asked outside experts to review and analyze the CPI report — and those findings were passed along to local media.
Bottom line: The CPI report is now as discredited as McAdam’s irresponsible attacks against the reputation of this fine public servant.
Readers ought to know, too, that the Sandy Springs/Buckhead lawmaker has never missed a day of regular or special General Assembly sessions in 13 years. This public servant, lest it be forgotten, sponsored the legislation that led to the creation of the city of Sandy Springs.
And, significantly, he was the 2004 Environmental Legislator of the Year — the first Republican ever named by the Georgia Conservation Voters.
Our representative has been instrumental in passing bills ranging from teen driving safety to student meningitis vaccination requirements. The list goes on.
But perhaps most important, and something McAdam refuses to concede, is that Rep. Joe Wilkinson has repeatedly advocated that all lobbying activity be fully open and transparent.