If signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, the measure won’t take effect until next Jan. 1, shortly before the legislature convenes again — not exactly a sign of great urgency about what lobbyists can spend to wine, dine and otherwise treat legislators to influence their votes on issues.
So for the next nine months, there is no limit on lobbyist spending.
The bill requires lobbyists to certify on disclosure reports “that no lobbying expenditure made on behalf of or for the benefit of any individual public officer exceeded $75.”
The language of the bill puts the limit on lobbyists, not on public officials.
Thus, it appears that a public official could accept any amount so long as no single lobbyist chipped in more than $75. There is no limit on how many times lobbyists could spend $75 on a legislator in one day, but at worst it seems this would come down to buying both lunch and dinner instead of one or the other.
It would be nothing like the thousands that lobbyists are now free to spend entertaining legislators.
The compromise bill produced by a House-Senate conference committee also threw out the unlimited lobbyist spending for events open to all legislators, committees and caucuses. Instead, such an event is limited to one a year, and caucuses must get approval from their respective ethics committee in the House or Senate.
However, there’s a loophole big enough to drive a Mack truck through.
It would allow lobbyists to bankroll trips by public officials and their staff within this country if the trips are connected to official duties. Of course, that’s a matter of officials simply declaring such expense-paid trips are related to their official duties — like House Speaker David Ralston’s $17,000 lobbyist-paid trip to Europe in 2010 with family and staff to study light rail. As a practical matter, that’s not likely to happen again, given the uproar that followed from reformists and the public alike.
There have been concerns raised about a change affecting lawyers. The new bill would not require attorneys and their staff to register as lobbyists if they are representing a client and not being paid specifically to lobby in regard to legislation. Existing law limits the exemption to lawyers for a defendant in an administrative law case. However, it seems unlikely that reputable law firms would be interested in trying to circumvent the intent of the law. That point was made by State Bar lobbyist Russell Sewell who said the new law probably doesn’t provide lawyers “any more ways to skirt the law than maybe existed before.”
The compromise threw out the worst features of the House bill restricting free speech — and reformers can try to close loopholes and cut spending to zero next year.
The new legislation is a good start.