The study conducted by State Integrity Investigation in cooperation with the Center for Public Integrity, ranked Georgia 50th in the country for corruption laws with a final grade of 49.
Based on 330 questions, or corruption risk indicators, the Georgia assessment was authored by Jim Walls, editor of the website Atlanta Unfiltered and former editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The recent report paints a bleak picture for the state pointing to a lack of ethics law and enforcement in areas of lobbying disclosure, political financing and public access to information.
Questions have since arisen over the report's use of local journalists to perform the interviews. The State Integrity Investigation website describes the process used to source, edit and verify answers.
"Editors worked with the state reporters to ensure that data was sourced appropriately and scored against the established criteria. The data was then blindly reviewed by a peer reviewer for each state who was asked to flag indicators that appeared inaccurate, inconsistent, biased, or otherwise deserving of correction. Project managers at Global Integrity and the Center for Public Integrity worked for more than half a year with the reporters and peer reviewers to resolve questions and debates around each and every one of the 16,500 indicators compiled during the course of the reporting," stated the State Integrity Investment website.
For Rick Thompson, former executive secretary of the Georgia State Ethics Commission, the methodology chosen to compile the report leads him to distrust the report's validity.
"The methodology of the report is what is very troublesome to me," Thompson said. "There's a certain level of academic research that must be done on a study in order to call it a study and have any validity. In the past, when they did the grading what they did was they used regulators that were non-partisan and held the position.
"It wasn't an opinion, it was more factual. This survey, after reading the questions, there's more opinion than fact."
In the past, Thompson said, state legislators have used CPI reports to see where ethics laws could be improved and guide new laws by the organization's suggestions.
"Legislators have always used the CPI reports to make better ethics laws," Thompson said. "When I came to Georgia in 2004, Georgia was 33 graded by CPI. The legislators used CPI's report to bring us up to No. 6. Every year they looked at that report, every year they analyzed those reports.
"The last reports came out in 2009, ranked us at sixth in the nation. Then the General Assembly passed new laws right after that to increase lobbying reporting, to raise civil penalties for lobbyists not reporting and a bunch of things that strengthened the laws, not weakened them. ... To drop all the way down to 50 is insanity."
Walls outlined his argument in an article accompanying the state report card. Also available are the answers provided for the 330 corruption risk indicators leaving Georgia with its failing grade. To view the full report, visit www.stateintegrity.org/georgia.
Former Bartow representative asks voters for action
One of the three goals listed by the State Integrity Investigation is "to inspire the public to become interested and invested in ensuring honest, effective state government." For Boyd Pettit, this is one aspect of the report he could agree with.
As a former state representative, a practitioner of governmental law in Bartow County for more than 30 years and a registered lobbyist with the Georgia General Assembly, Pettit has worked on all sides of government both state and local. Speaking from his experience in the state Capitol, Pettit finds the failing grade hard to believe but was unable to speak to the report's validity.
Although Pettit does not agree that Georgia's ranking should be within the failing range, he does applaud reports of this kind for their ability to generate interest in government issues, including ethics and corruption laws.
"I think the positive from this analysis and report is, I think it shows that there are public interests groups that are looking at states and looking at the conduct of public officials," Pettit said. "It questions the transparencies of the public entities and I think all of that is healthy because it keeps that dialogue and it makes people think."
Public involvement is not only generated by such reports, said Pettit, but is often the best reaction to seek the desired result. Pettit would like to see a return to active and involved voters, communicating with legislators and voicing their opinion at the polls.
"Why is the voter turnout 8 percent or 10 percent or 12 percent," Pettit asked. "I don't really know what that means but I would certainly like to see greater voter turnout.
"The legislature is up for election every two years, the governor every four, cities and counties and school boards are all four year terms. People certainly have the chance to judge their elected officials."