Originally created 02/16/99

Conflicts aided by loopholes



ATLANTA -- Loopholes in Georgia's law requiring public officials to report their financial dealings serve to foster conflicts of interest and shortchange the public, a government watchdog group said Monday.

The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based research group, released a report that gave Georgia a failing grade for its financial disclosure law.

"Georgia has significant problems when it comes to telling the public about the activities and personal financial interests of its lawmakers," said Charles Lewis, the center's executive director. "It is one of the worst states in the country."

The report, Hidden Agendas, identified 14 loopholes in Georgia's law. Among them was that Georgia legislators don't have to make public a list of their private business clients.

As an example, the report cited a situation two years ago in which House Majority Leader Larry Walker, D-Perry, cosponsored successful legislation that made it a felony to ship beer and wine into the state without a license.

The Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, which pushed for the bill, was a client of Mr. Walker's law firm, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said in a Monday article on the report.

The report ranked Georgia 33rd, ahead of Idaho, Michigan and Vermont, which require no disclosure, but far behind Washington, Alabama and Alaska, the top scorers.