Just how broad is Speaker’s plan for lobbyist gift reform?
by Don McKee
January 14, 2013 12:28 AM | 1245 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
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Ethics reform is supposed to be one of the priorities for the General Assembly opening today with the Senate expected to adopt a $100 limit on lobbyist gifts as an internal rule. There also will be a Senate bill to that effect. But as of yesterday there were no details of what House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) might propose.

The Speaker is playing it close to the vest after declaring he got the message last year when 81 percent of Georgia voters came down on the side of limiting or banning lobbyist gifts. Previously, Ralston had said he liked the existing setup of unlimited gifts and if this system was not in place then he favored banning lobbyist gifts entirely.

Last week Ralston elaborated a little. He said he wants to broaden the definition of a lobbyist. He gave a hint of the direction he might move, telling a newspaper: “We’ve got a lot of people running around this capitol that should be registered lobbyists wearing badges because they’re advocating for one side of an issue or another, and they’re not registered.” He refused to elaborate. Why?

Does Ralston want citizen volunteers who advocate for or against various issues to be defined as lobbyists? Is he going after unpaid volunteers from your neighborhood exercising their constitutional right to speak their minds to their elected legislators? Reading between the lines, it sounds suspiciously like Ralston may take the approach that if voters want to limit lobbyist gifts to legislators, then he will define anybody advocating for anything or against anything at the capitol as a lobbyist. The way he referred to “a lot of people running around this capitol … wearing badges because they’re advocating for one side of an issue or another” certainly does not indicate he is eager for people to express their views to their legislators and that if lobbyist gifts to legislators are going to be capped or eliminated, then there will be a price to pay for people running around the capitol wearing badges pushing for or against various issues.

Under existing law, per the state ethics commission, a lobbyist is anyone paid to act to promote or oppose legislation/regulation/ordinance by the legislature, governor, state agency, city or county government and who spends more than 10 percent of working hours doing so. It’s hard to see how this definition can be broadened very much.

On that point, Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) has suddenly found new zeal for ethics reform apparently extending to just about any citizen at the local level. He told the Journal’s Jon Gillooly what the Ehrhart ethics plan calls for: “If you live in a community and you ride with somebody that makes a decision in the health department, they need to disclose the gas that they spent on you.” He says this comes under the heading of what’s good for the goose is good for “a lot of gander.”

Ethics reform? It sounds more like revenge.

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