If the Tea Party had the kind of influence that some like to accuse it of, the Legislature would have wasted no time this year passing ethics reform legislation. That’s because the Georgia Tea Party Patriots — in concert with Common Cause Georgia, the League of Women Voters and Georgia Watch, working under the umbrella of the newly formed Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform — all had joined together this year to push for such legislation.
And if the Legislature was as responsive to the public as it likes to claim, it would have passed such needed legislation long ago, rather than bottling it up in committee.
An ethics-reform bill was introduced in each legislative chamber this year. House Bill 1105 was written by Rep. Tommy Smith (R-Nichols). And Senate Bill 391 was offered by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus).
Both bills were aimed at reducing the influence that lobbyists hold at the Capitol. The House bill was slightly stronger and would have set a $100 limit on spending by lobbyists and would have targeted not just spending on lawmakers, but on their families and office staff as well. In addition, it would have required members of all state boards, authorities and commissions, as well as the heads of state agencies, to file annual financial disclosure statements.
But the Senate Bill was sent by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to die a slow death in the Senate Rules Committee. And the House bill met a similar fate. Speaker David Ralston — who, you’ll recall, enjoyed a seven-day Thanksgiving junket to Europe in 2010 with his family in tow, ostensibly to look at high speed rail, with lobbyists picking up the entire $17,000 tab — assigned Smith’s bill to the House Rules Committee, from which it never re-emerged.
So lawmakers are free for another year to keep accepting lavish meals, trips, Super Bowl tickets and the like without having to look over their shoulders. So much for enhancing the public’s trust in those they elect. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a Legislature with an “entitlement mentality.”
Did you know that our state is one of only three in the country that allows lobbyists and others to give unlimited gifts to lawmakers? Just don’t call them “bribes” or “payments for access.”
Even Louisiana, where bribery is a way of life, has recently strengthened its ethics laws by putting gift caps in place. But not Georgia. Not this year.
At our state Capitol, the operative words are not “ethics reform,” but “Laissez les bontemps roulez” — “Let the good times roll!”
And the lobbyists — and their lawmaker friends and enablers — are rolling.