Georgia Watch and Ethics Alliance Oppose SB 160

March 3, 2011

Georgia Watch and the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform are urging lawmakers to oppose Senate Bill 160, which would allow regulated utilities to make direct campaign contributions to political candidates, except those running for Public Service Commission.

“This bill would greatly increase the influence of utilities that have state-created monopolies,” said Danny Orrock, Deputy Director of Georgia Watch. “The state already gives them a monopoly and the power to take a citizen’s land through eminent domain. An entity that wields such significant power should not be allowed to play in elections.”

As far as the unconstitutionality of the current Georgia law, Emmet Bondurant, local attorney and Board member of Common Cause Georgia states:

“Citizens United held that corporations and unions have a First Amendment right to use treasury funds to pay for television or print ads or direct mail advocating the election or defeat of a candidate of public office, so long as those expenditures are made independently of and not in coordination with the candidate or his or her political campaigns (i.e. a First Amendment right to make “independent expenditures”).

Citizens United did not hold unconstitutional the Federal Corrupt Practices act that has, since 1907, prohibited corporations and national banks, and since 1947 has also prohibited unions, from making political contributions directly to a candidate or his or her campaign.

Nor did Citizens United hold federal or state laws that place monetary limits on the amounts that individuals, or PACS can contribute directly to a candidate or his campaign.

The Court in Citizens United maintained and preserved the fundamental distinction between laws that prohibit or limit contributions directly to candidates because of the tendency of such contributions to influence and corrupt candidates, and the right of individuals or corporations to spend their own money, independently of a candidate or a political campaign, to publish a newspaper or TV ad urging the election or defeat of a candidate.

Statutes in the first category are still valid after Citizens United. Statutes in the latter category are not.

The members of the Alliance are independent groups and individuals with other policy interests in addition to their ethics proposal. However, they are united in the push for strengthening Georgia’s ethics laws. The Alliance includes Common Cause Georgia, Georgia Tea Party Patriots, Georgia Watch and the League of Women Voters of Georgia. They invite all groups and individuals with an interest in ethics legislation to join the Alliance at