Fulton Declines to Limit Contractors’ Campaign Donations
(APN) ATLANTA — On Wednesday, August 17, 2011, the Board of Commissioners of Fulton County voted down a proposal, 2 to 4, by Commissioner Emma Darnell (District 5), which would have prevented contractors from making donations to any County Commissioner within one year of applying to do business with the County.
Darnell and Bill Edwards (District 7) supported the proposal. Commissioners John Eaves (District 1), Liz Hausmann (District 3), Tom Lowe (District 4), and Joan Garner (District 6) voted no.
“WHEREAS, it is essential to the proper operations of Fulton County Government that the business of the County be conducted in an environment that is free from both actual impropriety and the appearance of impropriety,” the resolution states.
“WHEREAS, each year, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners considers and decides upon the award of contracts with private persons and business entities for goods and services needed for County governmental purposes,” the resolution states.
“WHEREAS, in the aggregate, such contracts annually amount to the expenditure of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars,” the resolution states.
“WHEREAS, the Board of Commissioners finds that the public trust, principles of open government, and the promotion of equal access and fairness in all business opportunities with Fulton County will be better served by limiting County contracts with persons and entities that make campaign contributions or gifts to Fulton County government officials or candidates,” the resolution states.
“Too many small businesses in District 5 believe that in order to receive an award of a contract, it’s not what you know and how you can perform, but who you know and whose campaign you have contributed to,” Darnell said during the debate on the legislation.
“We believe that this perception, which in my opinion is not constitent with reality, nevertheless is a perception that is harmful to this government. It is harmful for small businesses or large to believe that we do not have an open government where the only standard that we are interested in is performance,” Darnell said.
“I think it will cost us money and of course it costs us moral authority,” Darnell said.
“I want to emphasize that this resolution does not restrict campaign contributions in the same manner that a State law restricts campaign contributions by insurance companies to the campaign of an Insurance Commissioner. Georgia law says you cannot contribute period if you are a regulated entity, to the campaign of an Insurance Commissioner,” Darnell said.
Darnell that the Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the state’s limits on insurance commissioner campaign contributions, which are stronger than what is being considered in Fulton County.
“What the Georgia Supreme Court said there, that if the law is narrowly tailored, the government has a compelling interest in making sure that there is no appearance of corruption, or corruption, in the operation of their procurement,” Darnell said.
“I think that when we adopt these kinds of resolutions as other governments have done throughout the nation, it should give some confidence to qualified small and large businesses that want to bid on our proposals… that we are at least taking steps to eliminate the perception that we are operating our procurement operation in an unlawful manner,” Darnell said.
“I just don’t believe that what she says is true. I’m around this town quite a bit, I look at other counties surrounding us, I see things happening there. Those things are not happening in this county,” Lowe said.
“I’ve never made a practice of doing it,” Lowe said, referring to giving or accepting bribes. “When you have an image of being clean, people don’t contact you. I don’t get any offers for anything. People know my answer’s always the same. People in this town understand this County is basically clean. Look what’s happened in other counties. Look what’s happening in Gwinnett right now. It is very, very slim that it would hit us right here,” Lowe said.
“Lord, with all the people we have hired to ensure that everybody has a chance!” he exclaimed.
“That [pay-to-play] is not that fact, it ain’t the fact, and it has not been the fact for my last 30 years on this Board. I don’t see one reason in heck to tie the hand of all these contractors. I mean that is the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard of in my life. This thing is bad for business, it ain’t good for business. I think business is being tied by fools who want to consider this,” Lowe said.
According to Common Cause Georgia, which supported the legislation, there are nine states which have already adopted some kind of legislation seeking to restrict pay-to-play: Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
(END / 2011)