The Pareto Principle is alive and well under the Gold Dome.
Roughly speaking, the Pareto Principle holds that 20 percent of the people produce 80 percent of the results. In business, it might mean a handful of salespeople are responsible for most of a firm’s revenue. In agriculture, it might mean — as the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed a century ago — one-fifth of the pods produce four-fifths of the peas.
Regarding our General Assembly, I allude not to how many lawmakers introduce the bulk of bills that are passed — although that might be true. Rather, I’m talking about gifts from lobbyists to legislators.
My review of such gifts reported in 2011 found that, for the top three leaders in the House (David Ralston, Jan Jones and Larry O’Neal) and Senate (Casey Cagle, Tommie Williams and Chip Rogers), 19 percent of reported gifts accounted for 72 percent of the money spent.
Pretty close to Pareto.
The dividing line that created the 19-72 split was a gift value of $100. That is, 19 percent of gifts to these six lawmakers cost $100 or more, totaling some $58,000 out of the $80,000-plus lobbyists spent on them.
I chose $100 because that’s the proposed cap on gifts in the ethics reform bill (HB 798) introduced last week by Rep. Tommy Smith, R-Nicholls, and strongly supported by the Tea Party Patriots, Common Cause and other groups.
One argument against a gift cap is that it would infringe on lobbyists’ ability to make their cases to lawmakers. Another is that a restriction would push activity “underground”: It wouldn’t go away, but it would go unreported to the public.
If 81 percent of lobbyist gifts already fit underneath the cap, however, those fears strike me as overblown. I am also comforted by the fact that many of these pricey gifts are made by state agencies (think college football tickets) or Fortune 500-type corporations. Neither seems likely to risk being caught flouting state law. More likely, there would be less-expensive meals and fewer trips to stadiums, golf courses or more far-flung spots.
Somehow, I suspect, representative democracy would survive.
Another protest I’ve heard is that any move to limit gifts will lead to political one-upmanship and a race to zero. (“You’re for $100? Well, I’m for $50.” “Yeah? Well, I’m for $25!” And so on.)
Zero sounds good to some folks, but I share the concerns about underground spending in the event of a total ban. In any case, better to start with a limit and evaluate whether further change is needed.
With that in mind, I asked the Senate Democratic leader, Steve Henson of Tucker, whether his caucus would be likely to spark a race to zero.
“If you’re trying to do the right thing and you’re trying to limit gifts from $1,000 [in a few cases now] to $100, I don’t see you being hurt by the public for not going to $10,” he said. “If [Republicans] would enter a dialogue with us, I’m certain we wouldn’t just play a game to try to one-up them politically.”
There’s another way Pareto can be at play here: A small number of citizens can produce large results by talking to their legislators about limits. I hear the phone calls are coming in — and working. Don’t let up now.
Here are contacts for key House and Senate officials on this issue, as listed on the General Assembly’s website:
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle: 404-656-5030
Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons (President Pro Tem): 404-656-0089
Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock (Majority Leader): 404-463-1378
Sen. John Crosby, R-Tifton (Chair, Ethics Committee): 404-463-5258
Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain (Secretary, Ethics Committee): 404-656-0075
Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge (Speaker of the House): 404-656-5020
Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton (Speaker Pro Tem): 404-656-5072
Rep. Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire (Majority Leader): 404-656-5052
Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta (Minority Leader): 404-656-5058
Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs (Chair, Ethics Committee): 404-463-8143
And read previous posts on this topic by me, Jay Bookman and the AJC’s editorial board:
– By Kyle Wingfield