By William Perry, Georgia Ethics Watchdog
PSC Commissioner Fitz Johnson is either attempting to deceive Georgia voters or showing a high level of incompetence. Can you help figure out which it is?
There’s a problem with his campaign disclosure reports. 60% (yes, Six-Zero percent) of the individual contributors on his campaign disclosure report fail to comply with Georgia law. He has failed to disclose the name of the employers and the occupations of most of his individual donors.
Georgia law requires disclosing this information about donors for EVERY candidate for public office, from Governor to Dog-catcher. Well, dog catchers aren’t actually elected in Georgia, but you get what I’m saying.
The law requires these disclosures so that every Georgian seeking this information can see if a donor to any candidate has some financial or other benefits to gain from giving this contribution based on their job. Such influence peddling is not necessarily illegal, but failure to disclose occupation is a critical block of transparency.
What makes it even worse in Johnson’s case is that the PSC falls under particular scrutiny because the Commission regulates our utilities, giving them direct decision-making on how much our power, gas, and other utility bills cost us. There are campaign finance laws and rules specifically for these regulated entities, such as Georgia Power, so it’s crucial to know the background of donors to PSC campaigns.
Continuing a trend of suspicious influence peddling, Fitz has set a record for the Georgia PSC Accountability Project’s “Influence Dollar” tracking, with 86% of his campaign contributions coming from individuals, PACs, and companies wishing to influence his decisions as a Public Service Commissioner. Fitz makes discovering those donors much harder when he doesn’t list their occupation or employer, which lends credibility to the argument that he is attempting to deceive voters.
What’s frustrating about Fitz’s reports is that many of the contributions were of the same or similar amounts, on the same or near the same date, and by individuals having the same name as those contributions accepted by Commissioner Tim Echols, Johnson’s colleague on the PSC who is also running for re-election. Echols has correctly reported almost all of these same contributors’ employers and occupations. In contrast, for some unknown reason, Johnson has failed to do so. If Tim can do it, why can’t, or won’t, Fitz?
So help me decide: is it deception or incompetence?
I recently filed a complaint about Fitz’s lack of disclosure with the Georgia ethics commission. I’ve done enough of these to predict Fitz’s response. It will likely be something like, “This was a technical or clerical error, and we will correct it soon.” Does that excuse fly with you? Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse. Should breaking the law 60% of the time on your disclosure reports be a good excuse?
In over 26 years of reviewing campaign reports, I occasionally see the omission of the occupation and employer for contributors. But such omissions are rare. Never have I seen 60% of contribution listings that omitted some or all of the employer and occupation information. Given the numerous omissions in Fitz’s reports, it is difficult for me to avoid the conclusion that this is an attempt to conceal information about contributors from Georgia voters in violation of the law. I say it’s deception. What about you?