“They’re all just crooks.” For probably as long as there has been representative government, there have been cynics who throw that wild punch.
But in the other corner of this boxing match is House Ethics Committee Chairman, Joe Wilkinson. He counterpunches with, “I find it interesting there are 10 million people in the state of Georgia, and not one of them has come forward with a single shred of evidence of wrongdoing against any legislator.” [ReporterNewspapers.net, Jan. 25].
Wilkinson’s statement is simultaneously wrong and contemptibly misleading. He ignores our state’s history with corrupt politicians and the fact that an investigation is under way that involves a prominent member of the state Senate. He also pretends not to understand the corrupting effects of money in our politics.
Indicted on 18 counts involving false travel reimbursements, Sen. Don Balfour has already been stripped of his position as Senate Rules Committee chairman.
Investigative journalist Jim Walls of Atlanta Unfiltered exposed Balfour’s possible expense account falsifications. Walls’ reporting rang the bell that started a legal investigation. Balfour may have scammed taxpayers out of $2,700, but his wrongdoings, as bad as they may have been, pale in comparison to the damage done by normalized corruption.
In the 2012 election cycle, Georgia’s House and Senate candidates raised $14.7 million in campaign donations. House Speaker David Ralston was the reigning titlist, raising more than twice as much as any other candidate. Also, some of the biggest givers of campaign cash are also Georgia’s most influential policymakers.
Last year, a report by The Center for Public Integrity released “The State Integrity Investigation” report, which measured each state’s risk of corruption using 330 metrics. Georgia ranked last in the nation, receiving letter grades of D’s and F’s in 12 out of 14 categories.
In response, Wilkinson claimed that he had recreated that report and came to the conclusion that Georgia actually ranked third. Wilkinson refuses to release any information about his version of this study. He just expects us to believe that he recreated a study that employed dozens of reporters, cost $1.5 million, and just happened to conclude that our state’s laws are pretty much OK as is.
Not all politicians are crooks, but with examples like Joe Wilkinson, it’s clear that we need more challengers and more champions for honest government. Mr. Wilkinson will be running for re-election next year.