Ethics reform, with loopholes
The same year that Georgia scored 50th in the integrity investigation, both political parties polled voters during the 2012 primary on whether there should be restrictions on gifts to lawmakers.
At the time, lobbyists were able to spend unlimited amounts on gifts to politicians as long as they reported their spending.
The majority of Georgians said yes, please limit gifts, and the legislature followed suit with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Act of 2013, which went into effect last year.
Gifts to individual lawmakers are now capped at $75. This simple restriction has helped significantly in boosting Georgia's grade.
Lawmakers and lobbyists are adjusting to the new reality. For the most part, the swanky steak dinners and “educational” golfing trips have been replaced by more modest expenditures, but not all the fun is gone for politicians.
The new law does not require state employees to register as lobbyists. And without registration, there is no reporting requirement and the limit is off.
This allows lobbyists for Georgia's public universities, who are state employees, to continue to hand out gifts such as football tickets to politicians.
“The law permits that,” said University of Georgia Political Science Professor Charles Bullock. “You can't get tickets to the [Atlanta] Falcons, but [the University of Georgia] can say here are tickets to the president's box,” he said, referring to the suite at the university’s football stadium.
Governor wields considerable clout
Georgia has a CEO-style governorship and a part-time legislature that meets just 40 days a year.
This puts a lot of power into the hands of the governor. He or she introduces the state budget, and lawmakers get just a few weeks to influence the spending plan “around the edges,” said Alan Essig, the former head of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group. “The governor gets 95 percent of what he wants,” he said.
Gov. Nathan Deal is using his power to push for innovative prison reform, which he's championed for the past four years.
But he’s also had his share of ethical challenges. He’s been accused of using patronage and cronyism in rewarding loyal lawmakers with judgeships and lucrative state jobs. He's also appointed friends to powerful state boards who then helped fund his re-election campaign.
Much of this is still legal in Georgia, and it contributed to the state earning an F in the category of executive accountability.