Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA — Legislation tightening lobbying rules in Georgia will be changed next week to answer concerns it could limit the free speech rights of volunteers or nonprofit groups, Rep. Rich Golick said Thursday.
Golick (R-Smyrna) repeatedly made that promise after receiving criticism over a plan by House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) that would broaden the category of people who need to pay $300 to register as lobbyists and publicly report their spending. That bill received its first committee hearing Thursday. Lawmakers did not immediately present a new draft.
Ralston’s plan would generally force anyone who advocates a position and tries to influence public officials to adhere to rules governing lobbyists, including paying registration fees and disclosing how much they spend. As it stands, that could include people who appear at the Statehouse on behalf of a larger organization, even if they are not paid.
“We are not going to make individual volunteers in such organizations coming down to express themselves get caught up in that type of registration,” Golick said.
Lobbyists must currently register if they spend more than 10 percent of their working time or more than $1,000 annually on lobbying efforts.
Several said that too many people could be required to register under the current plan.
A lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Conference, H. Ray Newman, said he was concerned that Baptist clergy who meet with lawmakers on policy issues as little as once a year could be forced to register as lobbyists.
“They come representing their church, which is of course an organization,” Newman said. “They might come just one time. But to able to say to them they’re going to have to register, that’s a great concern for me.”
Debbie Dooley, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party, accused lawmakers of using the bill to retaliate against her group and others that pushed state lawmakers to adopt limits on lobbyist spending.
“The Capitol is the people’s house,” she said. “And we are your landlord. If you’re here representing the people, you’re the landlord and how dare you tell us you’re not welcome and put a closed sign on the people’s house.”
Ralston’s spokesman Marshall Guest said the speaker described Dooley’s accusations as “absurd and ridiculous.”
“The goal of this bill is to strengthen and improve our state’s ethics laws,” Guest said. “The hysterics have to stop.”
Golick said lawmakers will attempt to rewrite sections of the legislation by early next week.