AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

'Dark money' showdown looms at Capitol

The Georgia Senate Monday passed a bill to potentially forgive millions in fines owed by local politicians who failed to file their campaign finance reports with the state over several years.

House Bill 370 has been in the works for a couple of years, pitting the powerful city and council lobbyists against the state ethics commission. When those two sides worked an agreement earlier in the session, the bill seemed greased for passage, but it lacks an element that House Speaker David Ralston really wants.

Along with the fine-forgiveness provisions, HB 370 included provisions that would require certain political activists to disclose who funds their efforts . Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has wanted more sunlight on these non-lobbyists lobbyists for years, but activists claim what he really wants is to shut them up.

The House passed that version of the bill by a huge margin last year.

Perhaps because of the anger of activists -- particularly conservative tea party types -- the Senate stripped the so-called "dark money" provisions out of the bill in hopes of settling the fines issue before returning to their home districts to run for re-election.

Because the House and Senate versions of HB 370 differ, the House will have to decide whether to accept the Senate changes or work out the differences in a conference committee.

Ralston has indicated he would really like the regulation of activists put back in, but would he jeopardize the fines-forgiveness bill to get his way?

You can read more about the debate over dark money and free speech in the AJC Watchdog here.

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Joyner’s column, AJC Watchdog, investigates topics in your community and Georgia.