Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Public agencies hit with ethics complaint over Amendment 2 support

Posted By on Tue, Oct 28, 2008 at 2:03 PM

It's one thing for a public agency to argue in support of a cause, says a honest-government watchdog group. It's another to contribute cash, however.

Common Cause Georgia yesterday filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission against several public agencies — including the Atlanta Housing Authority, Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District — that allege the groups contributed nearly $125,000 to Georgians for Community Redevelopment, a booster group that is campaigning in favor of Amendment 2 on the General Election Ballot.

A successful passage of Amendment 2 would allow school boards to participate in tax allocation districts, a somewhat controversial redevelopment mechanism that uses future increases in property taxes to pay off bonds sold to build infrastructure in blighted areas. TADs have been used throughout the state since 1985 — most notably at Atlantic Station. In February, however, the state Supreme Court ruled that the use of educational funds — in this case, the school's portion of property taxes — for redevelopment purposes violated the state Constitution.

“Common Cause Georgia fully acknowledges the right of the development community to lobby for the passage of this constitutional amendment," Bill Bozarth of Common Cause Georgia said in a statement. "That is free speech, and we take no issue with that. However, we do take issue with doing so in violation of the law. We are filing our complaint with the State Ethics Commission because we believe that Georgians for Community Development - a campaign committee organized for the purpose of gaining voter approval of Constitutional Amendment 2, has accepted contributions from several public agencies which are clearly prohibited by Georgia statute from contributing to this kind of political activity.”

The AJC has more on the story here.

After the jump, the full release from Common Cause and links to the recently filed complaints.

Common Cause Georgia files State Ethics Commission complaint against supporters of Constitutional Amendment 2

For Immediate Release: October 27, 2008

Contact: Bill Bozarth or Jayne Watson [redacted]

ATLANTA, GA – Non partisan good government advocacy group Common Cause Georgia today filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission, naming several parties involved with efforts to encourage voter passage of Constitutional Amendment 2, the so-called "TAD amendment."

Our complaint alleges that a campaign committee called Georgians for Community Redevelopment, Inc. has received significant contributions from public agencies in violation of Georgia law. The Ethics in Government Act prohibits public agencies from contributing financially to efforts which encourage passage or defeat of ballot initiatives of any kind.

Named as respondents in the complaint are:

o Georgians for Community Redevelopment, Inc.

o Central Atlanta Progress and its affiliate Downtown Improvement District

o Atlanta Housing Authority

o Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District

o Perimeter Community Improvement Districts

o The Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District

o Cumberland Community Improvement District

Also named as respondents in the complaint are officers of Georgians for Community Redevelopment.

Common Cause Executive Director Bill Bozarth explained the reason the organization filed the complaint. “Common Cause Georgia fully acknowledges the right of the development community to lobby for the passage of this constitutional amendment. That is free speech, and we take no issue with that. However, we do take issue with doing so in violation of the law. We are filing our complaint with the State Ethics Commission because we believe that Georgians for Community Development - a campaign committee organized for the purpose of gaining voter approval of Constitutional Amendment 2, has accepted contributions from several public agencies which are clearly prohibited by Georgia statute from contributing to this kind of political activity.”

Bozarth added further: “It would be inappropriate for a Georgia County Government, or the State Department of Transportation, or a local library board to contribute to the campaign of John McCain or Barak Obama. People can easily see that's something a public body should not engage in. The same law which prohibits that activity also prohibits Housing Authorities and Community Improvement Districts from contributing to efforts to pass a constitutional amendment.”

Common Cause Georgia acknowledges the important role Central Atlanta Progress has made over the years in providing financial and political support to keep Atlanta's downtown area vital. We also appreciate the value of the other named respondents in their community improvement endeavors. Their noteworthy role in making our communities better, however, does not exempt them from playing by the rules, which Common Cause believes clearly state that public agencies are not allowed to provide funds for political campaigns, be they the campaigns for candidates or ballot initiatives.

To see our full respondent list and statement of facts in the complaint go to the Common Cause Georgia website. (Ed. Click here to review the information)

The contributions from all but one of the respondent groups may be viewed in reports available on the State Ethics Commission web site. (Ed. Click here to review the alleged contributions)

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