You probably remember a while back when The Facility Group, an Atlanta construction firm, had its CEO and others indicted in Mississippi. They're accused of giving politicians illegal campaign contributions to win contracts.
Facility Group has done quite a bit of work in Middle Georgia, including overseeing construction of a recent expansion to the Bibb County jail, a multi-million-dollar project.
So we went combing through local campaign finance records for county commissioners and the sheriff. We didn't find anything particularly suspicious.
But it's worth noting that local boards of elections, by law, only have to keep five years worth of campaign finance documents on hand, so 2003 was as far back as we could check. Typically few donations are made outside of campaign years, which means significant donations would have had to been made as far back as 2000 to have affected decisions to award the contract to Facility Group and its local partner in 2002 and 2003.
So it would have been nice to still have those records or, better yet, to have them in an electronic database. The State Ethics Commission keeps records this way, so if you want to know who The Facility Group gave to in state government, all you have to do is type "The Facility Group" into this database and it spits all the candidates that company has given to.
I believe the database only goes back to 2006, but put that aside for now. Quick searching the database is a heck of a lot easier than driving to boards of election and probate judge offices in 159 counties to hand check records.
According to Rick Thompson, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, the commission has pushed legislation the last two years that would require local officials (city council members, county commissioners, sheriffs, etc.) to file electronically with the commission. Then their records would be searchable, maintained indefinitely, etc.
The Georgia Municipal Association, and possibly others, has blocked this legislation, though. The reason, according to Amy Henderson at the GMA, is it would be difficult for city elected officials to comply. Particularly in small cities, which may not have internet access, or at least not much of it.
That's a double whammy, in that local citizens wouldn't be able to read the filings without internet service. It seems you could require a paper copy still be kept locally, or have the state put a computer at City Hall, but I digress.
Any way, this is all just FYI. It's not my place to advocate legislation, though in this case it would make my job quite a bit simpler at times. I just wanted to highlight the issue. Easily searchable databases = more sunshine in government.