Georgia’s ethics laws working quite well for Speaker Ralston

House Speaker David Ralston has been fending off calls for tighter ethics laws by counseling patience. Before rushing to pass any new rash of laws, he says, let’s wait to see the effect of changes passed last year.

(Note: This includes material posted originally on Saturday. It is posted here as the electronic version of today’s AJC column.)

Well, the early returns are in. Last fall, Georgia’s weak ethics laws allowed the speaker to accept a $17,000, week-long European vacation at a lobbyist’s expense for himself, his wife and his children, as well as for a staffer and the staffer’s spouse.

For Ralston, in other words, the laws are working quite well. No need to change a thing.
According to the speaker, the junket was a working trip, allowing him to study Europe’s high-speed rail system. (The Washington, D.C., firm that paid his way, Commonwealth Research Associates, is involved in efforts to build a high-speed line between Atlanta and Chattanooga.) And he took his family along on this “working trip” — again, at lobbyists’ expense — because the trip was scheduled over Thanksgiving holiday.

Government, we’re always reminded, should operate more like business. Very well. In private industry, few if any businesses would allow an employee to take an all-expense-paid $17,000 trip to Europe with his or her family, courtesy of a potential vendor or customer. It would be a firing offense.

The same is true for state government employees. In fact, one of Nathan Deal’s first acts as governor was to renew an executive order barring state employees from accepting a gift of more than $25 in value. However, that does not apply to legislators, who represent an independent branch of government.

Such trips are also forbidden in Congress. Last year, for example, U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel was admonished for taking a trip to the Caribbean sponsored by lobbyists. The New York Democrat was required to repay the costs of the trips.

But what Rangel gets admonished for, Ralston claims is fine.

In his short time as speaker, Ralston has gone a long way toward redeeming an office deeply sullied by his predecessor, Glenn Richardson. He is also smart and level-headed, which may not sound like high praise until you remember how rare those traits can be sometimes.

But as speaker, Ralston sets an example and an attitude that other members of the Legislature will follow, just as Richardson set an example and attitude that his members followed. The decision to travel to Europe, family in tow, sets an example that anything goes regarding lobbyist largess.

It’s important to note that the Democrats in their day were no different or better. In fact, their opposition to ethics reform became part of the GOP’s indictment against them.

Back in the early ’90s, for example, House Speaker Tom Murphy fought hard to kill a bill requiring lobbyists to at least report the gifts they shower on legislators and putting a limit of $100 on such gifts. Murphy’s opposition was condemned by this newspaper as “an act of selfishness and contempt for public opinion” and an effort to preserve “a sleazy way of doing the public’s business.”

Eventually, public outcry forced Murphy and his colleagues to accept lobbyist disclosure requirements, which is how we know about Ralston’s trip. But they succeeded in fending off a limit on lobbyist spending, the same limits that Ralston and his colleagues continue to fight. Like leaders of any party or era, they come to believe that they’re entitled.

However, if it’s misleading to frame this as Democrats vs. Republicans, it’s equally misleading to simply dump the blame on politicians being politicians.

Ethical standards are low for Georgia politicians because Georgia voters don’t demand anything better. Politicians abide by the standards that the voters establish.

In other words, it’s also my fault and your fault — our fault — for tolerating it.

– Jay Bookman

57 comments Add your comment

Ramguy

January 25th, 2011
6:22 am

You’re right Jay. Ga voters are getting what they deserve.

Karl Marx

January 25th, 2011
6:34 am

We tolerate Deal, We tolerate Ralston, We tolerate Murphy. Who else? The people of Georgia have spoken and they decided to elect these Crim…. er ….ethically challenged politicians

Peadawg

January 25th, 2011
6:39 am

The sad thing is that NEITHER side has much to offer as far as ethical politicians. I’m personally tired of having to pick the politician that lies the least in every election.

Marilyn Carter

January 25th, 2011
6:40 am

I can’t believe he had to nerve to justify the trip and then taking his family, maybe he should have had a staycation like alot of us are doing. If he can’t afford to go on any trips then welcome to the real world and he need to stop making excuses even a five year old would laugh at. That really rubbed me the wrong way with his thick juicy head.

Road Scholar

January 25th, 2011
6:50 am

Not only do they need to set gift limits ($25 max for a meal, NO gifts) but they still haven’t fessed up to who knew about the Richardson affair. Why was Ralston’s family integral to his attending the trip? Does his wife and children vote in the House too?

dagnabit

January 25th, 2011
6:56 am

Ralston and Deal, like all republicans, are a party of liars. To say they are two-faced isn’t strong enough.

stands for decibels

January 25th, 2011
7:05 am

Does his wife and children vote in the House too?

And is his children learning?

.

.

(sorry.)

Redneck Convert (R--and proud of it)

January 25th, 2011
7:12 am

Well, he set a bad example. I got nothing against him taking a free trip, mind you. Heck, it’s better than him getting a trip on our taxes. But when he brings his wife along it makes the rest of us men look bad. After awhile wifes everywhere will be wanting to go wherever we go. I know I don’t want the missus riding with me in the beer truck and me needing to stop every 10 minutes for her to use a bathroom. This guy needs a good talking to. There’s standards us men have to uphold if we’re going to be real men.

That’s all I got to say. Have a good Tuesday everybody.

stands for decibels

January 25th, 2011
7:20 am

when he brings his wife along it makes the rest of us men look bad.

Have I mentioned lately that there are times when I really, really think it would be worth my while to fill out the paperwork and pony up the 50 dollar application fee and see if maybe the Pulitzer committee would see fit to bestow the honor our regular Comments page contributor truly deserves?

Lil' Barry Bailout

January 25th, 2011
7:20 am

US’s campaign laws working quite well for Idiot Messiah
by Jay
———————————-

There, fixed that for ya based on the below…

Three SEIU Locals–Including Chicago Chapter–Waived From Obamacare Requirement

Three local chapters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), whose political action committee spent $27 million supporting Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, have received temporary waivers from a provision in the Obamacare law.

Granny Godzilla

January 25th, 2011
7:21 am

It’s a matter of personal responsibility – for each Georgia voter.

Jay’s right.

“In other words, it’s also my fault and your fault — our fault — for tolerating it.”

Lil' Barry Bailout

January 25th, 2011
7:25 am

Yes, think how intensely the Democrats must suck if Georgians prefer “corrupt” Republicans.

Sucks to be you.

cmac

January 25th, 2011
7:29 am

This clown ralston & the rest of he legislative clowns won’t make ethics laws tougher & more restrictive because it would impede on their sense of entitlement.

When you let the fox guard the hen house, your gonna get alot of dead chickens. Hence, when you let slime ball politicians police themselves, your gonna get alot of slime!

stands for decibels

January 25th, 2011
7:30 am

LBB, so long as you’re posting off-topic garbage, why don’t you try hawking the “Eleventy Gazillion More High Payin’ Gubmint Jerbs!!!” meme?

It’s just as stupid and dishonest as your “Waiver” riff, but has the added benefit of being kind of funny to watch.

Normal

January 25th, 2011
7:31 am

Why does Little Barry Bailout take criticism of Republicans so personally that he immediately resorts to insults?

Granny Godzilla

January 25th, 2011
7:32 am

Lack of self esteem?

cmac

January 25th, 2011
7:32 am

I was wondering why the trip cost so much. Then I saw a picture of the porky pig speaker & now I know! The food bill must have been tremendous! OINK! OINK! OINK!

Lil' Barry Bailout

January 25th, 2011
7:33 am

Go ahead and point out the “dishonest” parts of the waiver story.

Didn’t think so.

You’ve confused “dishonest” with “things I’d prefer not to hear because they’re too difficult to process as they conflict with my religious beliefs regarding my Idiot Messiah”.

Doggone/GA

January 25th, 2011
7:36 am

“Go ahead and point out the “dishonest” parts of the waiver story.”

There was no reference whatsoever to the BUSINESSES that ALSO requested and were granted that TEMPORARY waiver. THAT’s what’s dishonest.

Lil' Barry Bailout

January 25th, 2011
7:38 am

I can throw that in there too, Doggone, and we can just go for the whole cronyism angle your Idiot Messiah has going.

andygrdzki

January 25th, 2011
7:39 am

And how many companies has President Obama’s Administration granted waivers too for abstention from the HealthCare Bill? I thought it was good and required for all Americans? Guess not, if you contribute to the Democratic party, get a waiver and screw the workers…… Thought So. $17,000 vs millions… I see we have minds in the right place…..

stands for decibels

January 25th, 2011
7:40 am

Go ahead and point out the “dishonest” parts of the waiver story.

Jay already did. I can’t help it if you are a slow learner.

Doggone/GA

January 25th, 2011
7:40 am

“I can throw that in there too”

Then why haven’t you? Why ONLY mention a union? Why not go whole hog and give us a list of ALL waivers granted? And then be REALLY honest and explain that the waivers are a legal part of the bill. As Jay has done here several times already, and which you RESOLUTELY AND DISHONESTLY ignore every time.

stands for decibels

January 25th, 2011
7:42 am

Lack of self esteem?

Home-schooled by a yard dog?

Doggone/GA

January 25th, 2011
7:43 am

“I can’t help it if you are a slow learner”

and not the only slow one around here either.

Lil' Barry Bailout

January 25th, 2011
7:43 am

stands for decibels: Jay already did.
—————-

Too bad you can’t quote him on that. Must be the invisible pixels again.

choo choo train to nowhere

January 25th, 2011
7:44 am

maybe they were celebrating about spending the new transportation taxes in 2012….

Granny Godzilla

January 25th, 2011
7:45 am

From Whitehouse.gov

“To ensure that we protect the coverage that these workers have today until better options are available for them in 2014, the law allows HHS, in extreme cases, to issue temporary waivers from the phase out of annual limits. There are some important facts to remember about these temporary waivers:

The waivers only apply to one provision of the law – the provisions phasing out annual limits. Insurance companies and employers that receive waivers must comply with all other parts of the Affordable Care Act.
The waivers last one year. Insurance companies must reapply for the waivers each year between now and 2014 when annual limits on coverage will be completely prohibited and individuals will have more affordable and better private insurance choices in the competitive Exchange markets.
All employers and insurers that offer mini-med plans may apply for a waiver if they demonstrate that there will be large increases in premiums or a significant decrease in access to coverage without a waiver. You can read a list of employers and insurers that have received waivers here. ”

Lil’ Barry

Why do you hate not only American workers and taxpayers AND American business?

Are you a commie?

Doggone/GA

January 25th, 2011
7:47 am

“Too bad you can’t quote him on that. Must be the invisible pixels again”

“Well, let’s see:

The health insurance waivers in question are good only until 2014, when the full bill takes effect.

The waivers are intended to let those folks keep the coverage that they already have, just as the bill promised.

The bill was explicitly written to allow such waivers, because it was recognized they would be needed during the transition.

It’s also comical how unions are trotted out front and center to try to gin up hatred against the waivers themselves. If one third of the waivers went to unions, then two-thirds went to — gasp!!! — businesses! Ohmigosh, the Kenyan Marxist granted waivers to businesses?”

In: Gingrich won’t win nomination; he won’t even win in Georgia
8:43 am January 24, 2011, by Jay

Lil' Barry Bailout

January 25th, 2011
7:51 am

Bottom line, you gotta pay to play. The SEIU knows how to do that. Laws they don’t like don’t get applied to them.

Idiot Messiah: Corrupt.

Granny Godzilla

January 25th, 2011
7:51 am

Yep, a commie.

Southern Comfort (B.P.O.I.B.W.)

January 25th, 2011
7:53 am

Ralston’s proven himself to be just as corrupt as the rest of them. Good thing I don’t have to vote for him because that would be one less vote he’d have in any election.

Lil' Barry Bailout

January 25th, 2011
7:53 am

Doggie, you simply found some stuff Jay said about waivers. You didn’t contradict a thing I posted regarding the SEIU having spent $27 million on the Idiot Messiah and getting a waiver from the health care law.

Checkmate.

Granny Godzilla

January 25th, 2011
7:57 am

Next thing ya’ know Lil Barry will tell us McDonalds gave the President
a thousand 5 dollar books of Mickey D Gift Certificates for their waiver.

It’s a conspiracy!!!!

Lil' Barry Bailout

January 25th, 2011
7:57 am

BTW, a well-written law given due consideration wouldn’t need waivers during the transition. Too bad the Democrat party didn’t take the time do manage that, or to read the POS that they passed.

But then they couldn’t pass a budget, either.

Southern Comfort (B.P.O.I.B.W.)

January 25th, 2011
8:00 am

BTW, a well-written law given due consideration wouldn’t need waivers during the transition.

Not to jump into a heated debate, but a well-written law given due consideration would be funded so it would be effective… NCLB… Medicare Part D….

Lil' Barry Bailout

January 25th, 2011
8:03 am

“…to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.”

– John Adams, Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin, Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1780

The McDonald’s kerfuffle shined a light on the health-care legislation. With many of the rules to be written and many of the provisions to be phased in between now and 2014, the public got to see how the sausage was made and who gets to make it.

And once again, the Obama administration found itself on the defensive, with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius claiming the Journal story about McDonald’s dropping its mini-med coverage was “flat out wrong.”

“We can’t waive a regulation that doesn’t even exist,” Sebelius said.

Who knew? Well, pretty much anybody who was paying attention.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-10-07/mcdonald-s-offers-taste-of-obama-sausage-making-caroline-baum.html

Lil' Barry Bailout

January 25th, 2011
8:04 am

Southern Comfort (B.P.O.I.B.W.)
Medicare Part D….
———————————

You know that the Idiot Messiah made it even more expensive, right? After complaining about how this evil had helped explode the deficit?

Southern Comfort (B.P.O.I.B.W.)

January 25th, 2011
8:08 am

LBB

Simply pointing out that both parties do things that people don’t like or think are in the best interests of the country. I believe both parties are corrupt.

khc

January 25th, 2011
8:27 am

hello barry, you seem to have some answers…when are you running for office….

stands for decibels

January 25th, 2011
8:28 am

You didn’t contradict a thing I posted regarding the SEIU having spent $27 million

LBB, if you’re so thick that you can’t grasp the notion that correlation doesn’t prove causation, if I have to point out that unions got shat upon by this Administration in various and sundry other ways… oh wait. You are. Never mind.

back upstairs.

The Anti-Wooten

January 25th, 2011
8:36 am

You folks do understand that arguing with trolls like Lil Barry Bushbot is just creating more climate change right?

His hatred for “those people” being in charge will not be affected, especially through the tin foil hat.

The Dude

January 25th, 2011
8:40 am

die hard conservative and I am disgusted by Ralston and his cronies. Say hello to your new boss, same as the old boss.

poison pen

January 25th, 2011
8:54 am

Jay & Granny, please tell us how to change it, one party is as crooked as the other one, and if you don’t believe that I have a bridge for sale.

Maybe if you were more objective in your articles people could believe in what you have to say, unfortunately being one sided just doesn’t give you any credability. Sorry.

GBO

January 25th, 2011
8:54 am

I totally agree that it is wrong, sets a bad example, and calls into question the integrity of the man and the office. Just don’t turn a blind eye when a dem/lib does the same thing…it is just as wrong.

poison pen

January 25th, 2011
8:57 am

GBO, Don’t hold your breath for the Dem/Lib part.

oldtimer

January 25th, 2011
9:00 am

Are most states any different?

Brad

January 25th, 2011
9:05 am

Obama obviously ran for office solely to screw with LBB.

Road Scholar

January 25th, 2011
9:08 am

SFD: “And is his children learning?”

Shouldn’t that be “And are his children learning?”

Two minutes in the grammar penalty box!

I hope his children are learning, but in school, not on a junket paid for with lobbyist dollars! Ya’ know that there is still time that Ralston could refund his families share?

Lil’ Barry: Bless his heart!

Granny G: His momma must have dropped him on his head when he was a baby! On second thought, she dribbled him!

Road Scholar

January 25th, 2011
9:10 am

poison pen: What if the people draft the ethics rules?

Southern Comfort (B.P.O.I.B.W.)

January 25th, 2011
9:26 am

Road Scholar

The easiest way to handle that is to make ALL government employees, whether hired, elected or otherwise, follow the same ethics rules. If a DoT secretary had taken that job, he/she would be unemployed. Make the legislators follow the same guidelines that all other government employees have to follow.

Stone

January 25th, 2011
9:28 am

As long as the people who voted him in don’t care then why should we? His seat is safe so just let it go.

Ty'rone

January 25th, 2011
9:30 am

Don’t you know you’re much better off just skipping over anything this guy says and going to the sports page?

GTO

January 25th, 2011
3:17 pm

“In other words, it’s also my fault and your fault — our fault — for tolerating it.”

I’m not “tolerating” it you fool, there just isn’t much we can do about it. We can bitch about this guy Ralston, write letters to the editor and rant in online blogs and it won’t faze him. You’ll say “well we just need to elect better people”. But by now you should know the ones we vote in are as bad or worse than the ones we throw out. Look who Ralston replaced as Speaker of the House.

Not havin' it

January 25th, 2011
3:35 pm

Ralston sells himself as a good old boy. But he is as sleazy and nasty as they come.

ROBOCOP

January 26th, 2011
9:39 am

Hey, GTO, Bookman IS right: we do tolerate it, because we know more about how many yards rushing the Falcons made in their last game, but don’t know squat or want to learn squat about the people who we put in charge of our government business. The great American writer and journalist, H. L. Menken, once said something to the effect that, “No one ever went broke over-estimating the ignorance of the American public.” The American electorate don’t have a clue who they’re voting for or why they’re voting for them. Of course, I’m not including the more than 60% of registered voters who don’t even bother to get off their butts and vote. We get precisely what we desrve because we accept the bad behavior of of those we put in charge.

Dr.EB

January 26th, 2011
12:07 pm

I, a deeply rooted Georgian, love my home state. I am not loving the politics of it.