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Ethics Codes Must Be Clear

Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010

It's illegal to use public funds for political purposes, but in Atlanta, that line was "blurry" for one member of the city council.

Councilwoman Cleta Winslow was fined recently for spending more than $5,000 of taxpayer's money to support her re-election.

The Ethics Code is clear about some issues, but apparently isn't clear enough about the distinction between community events and campaign events. In this circumstance, Winslow had the city pick up the tab for a number of events leading up to the election. Included in the expenses: food, beverages, and "Re-Elect Cleta Winslow" t-shirts.

In another instance, Winslow's campaign paid for a newsletter updating issues in the district, but the city of Atlanta reimbursed her $3,720 for workers (wearing the the campaign t-shirts) who walked door-to-door to distribute the flyer.

Many cities have officeholder accounts, allowing councilmembers to sponsor special events in their district. This "discretionary" money usually has no strings attached, but this story makes a strong case for guidelines for spending. It's a simple way  to make those blurry lines absolutely clear.


Tags: campaigns, ethics codes

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