Gov. Nathan Deal brought Georgia in line with nearly every other state in the nation Monday by signing into law the state’s first restrictions on lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers. Deal’s action puts in place the first major piece of ethics reform Georgia has passed in decades.
Until now, lobbyists in the Peach State had been free to lavish legislators with gifts and junkets of any size. But starting next year, they’ll be forbidden from spending more than $75 per gift.
The Georgia legislature has taken a major step toward strengthening the state’s ethics laws by moving a package of reform legislation through the House. The two bills in the package would impose limits on gifts from lobbyists and restore powers to the state’s ethics enforcement agency, among other changes.
The measures, which are sponsored by Speaker David Ralston, attracted little opposition, sailing through the House on Monday with just four dissenting votes. But their fate in the Senate remains clouded. In January, the upper chamber adopted a $100 cap on lobbyist gifts in a rule change that does not apply to the House. Ralston told reporters on Monday that he would not negotiate on changing his proposed ban on gifts to match the $100 limit that the Senate enacted. While some senators have called for passing the House legislation unchanged, others have sounded more cautious.
Georgia’s House Speaker says the ethics reforms he’s proposed this week could bring about a major shift toward cleaner government in the Peach State. But reform groups believe the initiatives may just represent politics as usual.
Speaker David Ralston introduced a bill that would ban gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers and restore the state ethics commission’s rule making authority, which the legislature stripped years ago. But the bill would also broaden the definition of who is a lobbyist to ensnare citizen volunteers, a move that has infuriated both liberal and conservative open-government advocates.
As lawmakers in three Southeastern states prepare for the 2013 legislative session, they’re finding bipartisan agreement on an unlikely agenda: ethics reform. Leaders in South Carolina and Florida have begun work that lawmakers and watchdogs say could lead to the states’ first meaningful reforms in decades. And in Georgia, proponents of stronger rules are rallying behind a slate of measures they hope may finally pass in what has long been a recalcitrant Legislature.
The initiatives all seek some regulation of money and influence. The proposals take aim at independent political spending, asset disclosure and gifts from lobbyists in an effort to bolster transparency and rein in the spiraling costs of running campaigns. In some cases the reforms could go deeper, as lawmakers try to attack the roots of corruption by strengthening ethics oversight and enforcement.
By Mike Mullen
A simple Google search will produce a map and directions on how to find the state capitol, where staffers can help citizens locate legislative chambers and hearing rooms. But this seemingly easy access hardly guarantees that what takes place in open meetings is a reliable predictor for the laws that will govern the state.
Aside from regulations on legislators’ potential conflicts of interest, the Legislative Accountability category also assessed the openness of each state’s lawmaking process. These corruption risk indicators are more difficult to judge by face value, so state reporters turned to statehouse veterans who had been trying to access and influence the legislature. In state after state, sources reported that it is often hard to actually observe the sausage as it is being produced, which helps to explain the oft-surprising flavor it takes on when finally released for public consumption.
At the insistence of the grassroots, leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties have agreed to put advisory questions on the primary ballot in July, asking voters whether they support the proposed gift limit. And everybody is pretty darn sure how those votes are going to come out.
In fact, shortly after the question was put on the GOP ballot, Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the Senate’s presiding officer, all suddenly embraced a gift cap. “I think there’s going to be a lot of support — a lot of support,” Cagle predicted.
Read the rest of the story at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Voters in the July 31 Republican primary will get the chance to say whether the state should adopt a $100 cap on the gifts lobbyists can give to lawmakers as the fight over ethics reform threatens to boil over within the GOP.
Ethics has become an increasingly important issue to grassroots Republicans who have gathered here for their two-day convention. The more than 2,000 delegates could also this weekend vote on creating an official party position in favor of tightening lobbyist rules.
Read the rest of the story at the Atlanta Journal-Consitution.
This Friday, Republicans from across Georgia will gather in Columbus for a two day State GOP Convention. In between the speeches by most of Georgia’s Republican members of the congressional delegation and statewide elected officials, there will be resolutions offered.
Providing that the resolutions committee sends to the floor one of the resolutions offered by various district conventions held last month, there will be at least one resolution asking if convention delegates agree that the Republican dominated legislature needs to get serious about offering meaningful ethics reform.
Read the rest of the story at Peach Pundit.
The language in Gov. Nathan Deal’s order is crystal clear on how the state bureaucracy is supposed to handle lobbyists. “State employees ... should not accept benefits of any sort under circumstances in which it could be inferred by a reasonable observer that the benefit was intended to influence a pending or future decision or to reward a past decision,” the order says.
Ryan Teague, Deal’s executive counsel, took a look at the order and determined that most boards do not fall under the ban, but employees of the executive departments do. Teague said the governor’s office is reviewing the order.
Read the rest of the story at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A new national report labels Georgia as the most corrupt state in the country. FOX 5's Vice President and General Manager Bill Schneider has his take on what that report should mean to the state's political leaders.
Watch the story at Fox 5 Atlanta.