Remember 2009 in the wake of the “Lobbyist-Gate” scandal when ethics reform seemed almost a foregone conclusion. The scandal involved then-Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson who resigned after his alleged affair with a female lobbyist was revealed.
Reform was in the air and Common Cause Georgia reiterated a call for limiting lobbyist gifts to legislators. Two years earlier the watchdog group had urged: “Let’s not continue to let lobbyists foot the bill for those who make our laws.” That came on the heels of what CCG termed “a kind of spending frenzy” in which state officials had received gifts worth nearly $1 million in four months – meals, drinks, tickets to sporting events and concerts, etc.
So the stage was set. The iron was hot. There was talk of reform. Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), chairman of the supposedly powerful House Judiciary Committee at the time, sponsored a bill with a $100 limit on gifts to legislators. The bill went nowhere, same as its successors since then because House leadership, primarily Richardson’s successor, Speaker David Ralston, has blocked any such notion, claiming the way to handle the issue is to simply report all gifts – and leave it at that.
During this year’s General Assembly, lobbyists showered legislators with nearly $867,000, averaging $9,525 per day and including more than $17,000 in sports and entertainment events, per an analysis by the AJC.
Now the coalition of CCG, Georgia Tea Party Patriots and Georgia Conservatives in Action is trying to drum up support from legislators for the $100 limit. Nearly 70 have signed a pledge of support and their number includes several supposedly powerful legislators: Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour.
We shall see how much influence they have or choose to exercise. But the point here is that the $100 limit is the wrong remedy. Such legislation heretofore has placed no limit on how many times a lobbyist can spend up to $100 on a legislator to influence his or her vote. It could be three or four times a day or 10 to 20 times a week. Obviously, lobbyists would ramp up the frequency of their gifts in order to achieve the desired impact.
This whole issue comes down to a basic principle: Why should our legislators, elected by the people to represent them and paid $17,342 each in salary plus a $173 daily expense allowance, be allowed to accept one red cent from lobbyists whose sole purpose is to influence the votes of the legislators? Answer: they shouldn’t.
Further, why in the name of common sense should our tax-supported University System of Georgia, Board of Regents and the Georgia World Congress Center be allowed to spend nearly a quarter-million of our tax dollars this year lobbying legislators paid by our tax dollars?
Is that a definition of insanity or what?