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We don't need no stinkin' ethics

Georgia lawmakers don't know how to conduct themselves



If you're looking for evidence that Georgia's party in power can do no wrong, look no further than the recent $70 million lawsuit federal banking officials slapped against eight former directors of Alpharetta-based Integrity Bank, which in 2008 helped kick off Georgia's long list of failed lending institutions.

Among the defendants named in the suit, which details allegations of "gross negligence" and "breaches of fiduciary duty": State Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, who, whattaya know, was named chairman of the upper chamber's banking committee earlier this month.

You'd think a state lawmaker in charge of crafting the state's banking laws would step down from his post when faced with claims about his negligent leadership of a failed bank, at least until the allegations played out in the courts. If not, you'd think his colleagues would demand he resign to deter criticism.

You'd be mistaken on both accounts. Murphy says he's done nothing wrong and that the public will learn his side of the story. Senate leaders voiced strong support for their colleague and circled the wagons to protect one of their own. (As CL went to press, Murphy remained chairman. When national journalists come looking for quotes about the inevitable failure of even more Georgia banks, you think they'll omit that the state's banking committee chairman is embroiled in a lawsuit about the exact same thing?)

Murphy's just one of several high-ranking lawmakers earning negative ink. Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock — who, along with Congressman Tom Graves, was sued last year for defaulting on a $2.2 million loan for a North Georgia motel affectionately known by locals as the "Methamphetamine Six" — still faces questions about working as a lobbyist for a national special-interest group. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, just last week faced criticism for enjoying — with family members in tow — a lobbyist's $17,000 overseas junket to research high-speed trains.

And much to the chagrin of political observers who predicted that he was destined for a courtroom rather than the governor's office, Nathan Deal won his seat despite a congressional investigation into whether he abused his office by trying to preserve a lucrative state contract. (Never mind Deal's poor financial decisions, including a $2.4 million loan he made to help his daughter's now-shuttered sporting goods store.)

Clearly these guys can do no wrong. So why not take the ethics-defying behavior to the limit?

Go ahead, start running gambling boats up and down the Chattahoochee River. Invest your legislative per diems in I-75 massage parlors to help spur economic development. Allow lobbyists, for a nominal fee, to act as "legislative editors" who personally fine-tune bills. (Oh wait, they kind of already do that.)

Considering lawmakers have no intention of instituting real safeguards — last week they swatted away an ethics reform package proposed by a diverse coalition that includes consumer advocates, government watchdogs and even tea party groups — it only makes sense that they wear their Teflon coating with even-more-shameless pride. Have at it.

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