Common Cause Georgia has entered the fray of the upcoming Atlanta Mayoral election by challenging all candidates to support “pay-to-play” reform. Under Common Cause’s proposed legislation, no person or entity who made a contribution of over $250 to the campaign of a Mayoral or City Council candidate would be eligible to submit a bid or perform a contract for the City of Atlanta for the next year. Further, the proposed legislation would restrict contributions of any amount by a City contractor to a City official or candidate during the term of the contract. The proposal places similar restrictions on gifts to City officials or employees.
While few would argue that the procurement process in Atlanta doesn’t need more sunshine, the Common Cause proposal appears to go a few steps to far. Most troublesome is the proposal to prohibit persons who make contributions of over $250 from bidding on any City of Atlanta contracts for the next year, as the prohibition applies even if the contract in question was not in existence at the time of the contribution. Restricting contribution amounts in this manner would undoubtedly chill the making of political contributions for City of Atlanta elections altogether, as any person or entity with any potential interest in any City contract in the future could not make contributions without the fear of being locked out of all future business. This is the sort of broad restriction that has proven to be problematic in jurisdictions such as Colorado. Similarly problematic is the apparent willingness to consider contributions by spouses and children of contributors in making prohibition determinations. Again, Colorado should serve as a cautionary tale here.
In sum, real ethics reform for the City of Atlanta needs to be seriously contemplated. However, the current Common Cause proposal is far too broad in its current state to warrant further consideration.