Don McKee: Ralston sounds retreat on ethics reform and lobbyists
by Don McKee
Columnist
March 26, 2010 01:00 AM | 1413 views | 2 2 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The new Speaker of the Georgia House, Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), who was supposed to be gung-ho for more and better ethics for our lawmakers, finally came up with his "reform" package Thursday.

After laboring mightily, the mountain brought forth a mouse.

Ralston's plan, which sailed through a House committee, naturally, would fix legislative ethics problems by such powerful steps as renaming the state Ethics Commission to the "Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission."

And his plan would ban e-mail or text messages between lobbyists and legislators during committee or floor debates of bills. Does this give you some idea of how bad the lobbying problem is? Even in the middle of debate in committee or on the floor, the lobbyists are influencing our legislators? Who knew?

You've got to admit this is heavy stuff, Draconian ethics reform - renaming a commission and banning e-mail and texting during debate.

But wait, there's more: Lobbyists would have to pay a $300 registration fee and would have to report more often on what they spend on entertaining our always hungry and thirsty lawmakers who apparently can't afford to pay their own way.

The real news is what's missing from the Ralston Retreat on ethics.

There is no limit - repeat, no limit - set on gifts from lobbyists to legislators. None. Nada. Zilch. Same as now. The sky's the limit. The door is wide open. The message to legislators: Eat, drink and be merry with lobbyists at their expense.

Ralston telegraphed his retreat in January when he chomped his way through $1,225 in meals and refreshments paid for by lobbyists, an average of $40 per day for one month. He explained all the eating and drinking with lobbyists "was due to renewing a lot of acquaintances and people who wanted to visit and get to know me that I had not gotten to work with in the past."

So much for the influence of Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who introduced HB 920 limiting lobbyist gifts to $100 at a time. Even that loose cap was too much for Ralston. Not to mention a $50 limit proposed by Democrats and rejected by party line votes in Ralston's House committee.

Nor does the Ralston plan require everyone to disclose their lobbying. Rep. Rusty Kidd, a Milledgeville Independent, said the "true problem is the people who aren't registered and that might be the corporate exec" who "flies in and pays an expensive dinner and flies out, no lobbyist is there."

Ralston had talked a good game but when crunch time came, he caved on ethics reform - despite all the uproar that brought down his predecessor, Glenn Richardson, for trysting with a female lobbyist while backing legislation for her employer.

Back in January when the scandal was still new and so was the Speaker, your columnist asked: Will the Republican-run General Assembly get serious about ethics reform this session?

We now have the answer: No.

dmckee9613@aol.com
Comments
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Wants Better
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March 26, 2010
Mr. McKee- haven't you heard? A pre-requisite for political office is the ability to think only about yourself and not the citizens you represent.
Pat H
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March 26, 2010
If Ralston was really interested in ethics reform, the lobbyists and their gifts would be outlawed, and the taxpayers would be heard.
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