How to bridge the gap between House, Senate on ethics bill

A ban on lobbyist-to-legislator gifts with several big exceptions, or a $100 cap with fewer exceptions? That’s the main question legislators must answer by midnight Thursday if they are going to pass ethics reform this year.

The proposed ban originated in the House, the cap in the Senate. Either one would be an improvement over the status quo of unlimited gifts. But, ultimately, legislators must pick one approach. And the best approach would be an even tighter version of the $100 cap.

House Speaker David Ralston has called a cap, rather than a ban, a “gimmick.” Referring to the $100 cap senators imposed on themselves on the first day of this session, Ralston has wondered aloud: Does it limit gifts to $100 per day? Per hour? Per minute? He opted instead to sponsor a bill with a ban.

The speaker was right to question the Senate rule’s lack of specificity. But with only three days left in this session, and with his bill looking dramatically different as senators send it back to the House, I hope Ralston will decide to support the cap — and make it stronger.

That’s because he has also been right about one other thing all along: the importance of transparency.

Georgia has had transparency regarding lobbyist gifts for several years. But the public deems it insufficient: 1.25 million Georgians — 82 percent of those who cast ballots — voted last summer in support of ending unlimited lobbyist gifts. (The question on primary ballots was not binding, so nothing has changed yet.)

But if transparency is insufficient, it’s also vital. As Ralston has noted, passing either a cap or a ban will not eliminate lobbying. Nor should it, because lobbying is constitutionally protected speech.

Requiring lobbyists to report what they spent on whom allows the public, as Ralston once put it, to “know where the intensity of the lobbying effort is.” That’s very valuable information for the public, and a ban would effectively end that transparency.

That said, while the ethics bill senators passed Friday includes fewer loopholes than either the rule they approved back in January or Ralston’s bill, it still lacks specificity as to how frequently legislators can accept gifts.

Public officials, the bill states, may not accept “a single expenditure with a value of $100 from a registered lobbyist or … group of registered lobbyists.” But if a meeting includes drinks, dinner and a ticket to a ballgame, does all that represent a “single expenditure” or (at least) three of them? Therein lies a significant difference, one that gets to the spirit of the message from those 1.25 million Georgians last summer.

It would be much closer to the spirit of that message to prohibit lawmakers from accepting more than $100 worth of gifts in one day — and no more than, say, $500 total in one year. For example, that might mean a $100 ticket to a ballgame, with the legislator buying his own food.

That scenario would require legislators to pay a little closer attention to the money being spent on them. It would be more palatable to the average Georgian. Which is, after all, the point of this exercise.

Combine that change with a broader definition of who’s a lobbyist — for reasons I’ve outlined before — and a compromise bill would take a big stride toward changing the culture under the Gold Dome.

It would also go a long way toward bridging the gap between the Senate’s cap and the House’s ban. And it would mean the bill that started in Ralston’s hands remained true to the goals he’s set out for our ethics laws.

– By Kyle Wingfield

76 comments Add your comment

JKL2

March 25th, 2013
7:47 am

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 25th, 2013
7:48 am

How about a fascism rule, which limits the amount of harassment and threats the dummycrats can use to brutalize a law abiding business or entity they do not agree with?

Which legislation do you think would provide Americans with a more reformed government?

JKL2

March 25th, 2013
8:02 am

I guess Gov Deal doesn’t get to have “obama fundraisers”.

They should make this easy to adjust, because in four more years $100 might be worth a cup of coffee.

Don't Tread

March 25th, 2013
8:28 am

I prefer a “ban” to a “cap”….

I wonder when they’ll ban anonymous donations to campaigns?

Cherokee

March 25th, 2013
8:30 am

Kyle I don’t agree with you too often, but your posts are well considered and supported.

My condolences, then, that you are cursed with so many trolls.

saywhat?

March 25th, 2013
8:31 am

I predict a compromise- there will be no cap on the amount lobbyists are able to give, but there will be no exceptions ruling out when a lobbyist can give.

indigo

March 25th, 2013
8:36 am

Kyle, do you actually believe any of this last minute political manuvering is for real?

The Georgia Legislature has no intention of getting off the lobbyist’s gravy train. This “ethics bill” legislation is nothing more than window dressing designed to fool the gullible into thinking Georgia lawmakers actually care more for the public good than their own selfish interests.

Kyle Wingfield

March 25th, 2013
8:56 am

indigo @ 8:36: We will find out if it’s for real. If it isn’t, they are going to be facing a lot of ticked-off grass-roots activists.

Bob Loblaw

March 25th, 2013
9:02 am

Kyle,

Where did you get a $500 for a year idea? Your own, personal ethics?

Legislating ethics is tough, huh? Everyone has their own.

Legislating who is and who is not behaving like a lobbyist, however, is pretty easy. They better get that right so that lobbyists aren’t competing with non-registered people engaging in lobbying.

And don’t think for a minute that there are throngs of grassroots activists that are dying for this. Its the same 12 people who couldn’t fill up a room for a rally be it not for your friends in the news media.

indigo

March 25th, 2013
9:15 am

Kyle – “we will find out if it’s for real”

They will go to great lenghts to conceal what’s really happening with lobbyist’s gifts. It will take many months, if not years, to uncover the truth. By then, they hope the public will be obsessed with something else, like gay marriage, or “personhood”, or a “balance” in teaching evolution and creationism, etc. etc. etc.

Dave

March 25th, 2013
9:18 am

“Requiring lobbyists to report what they spent on whom allows the public, as Ralston once put it, to ‘know where the intensity of the lobbying effort is.’ That’s very valuable information for the public, and a ban would effectively end that transparency.”

Let me see if I’ve got this straight. We need a law that lets lobbyists try to bribe legislators so that we can “follow the money” to see who is trying to influence who (so much for the I can’t be influenced by a steak dinner)?

I just as soon have the no bribes anytime for any purpose and then throw both the legislator and the lobbyist in jail if they violated the law. If you think “transparency” is the end all and be all of ethics, add a requirement that both legislators and lobbyists report who they talk to, when and why. Break the law, go to jail. See, it’s easy and no bribes were given.

Bob Loblaw

March 25th, 2013
9:20 am

@Dave:

Lobbyists are people, too. They can talk to legislators just like people about what they choose and when both wish to speak to one another.

See Bill of Rights, first item below preamble.

Dave

March 25th, 2013
9:21 am

Not stoping them from talking, indeed I’d require them to talk about who they are talking to.

Bob Loblaw

March 25th, 2013
9:24 am

@Dave:

Please pick up a copy of the Constitution at your earliest opportunity.

Dave

March 25th, 2013
9:26 am

Agh, stopping not stoping. And while I’m back, I don’t really think “transparency” does much for ethics. I don’t think most legislators or lobbyists much care what the public knows about what they are doing. And I really don’t think the public cares much about their contact. It’s the pay to play that is more important and that’s what the legislature is not getting rid of.

Bob Loblaw

March 25th, 2013
9:29 am

@Dave:

You want a registry for lobbyists to write down who they talked to, but don’t believe that transparency “does much” for ethics? Which is it?

Dave

March 25th, 2013
9:33 am

Bob, I’m aware of the First Amendment which refers to Congress, not the Georgia Legislature since we are being sarcastic. (Though it does apply to the Legislature because of the Fourteenth Amendment) Here’s the analogous provision from the Georgia Constitution: “Paragraph V. Freedom of speech and of the press guaranteed. No law shall be passed to curtail or restrain the freedom of speech or of the press. Every person may speak, write, and publish sentiments on all subjects but shall be responsible for the abuse of that liberty.” The Georgia provision nicely points out that rights aren’t absolute. People’s rights to speech and assembly can be regulated if there’s a good reason. I’m willing to bet that graft and bribery qualify as the basis to regulate contact between the pols and the lobbyists.

Road Scholar

March 25th, 2013
9:34 am

I can solve the dilemma! NO GIFTS! Period! No limits are needed! No thinking is needed! No rational is needed to explain why you selected the gift!

Add a level of enforcement: Accept a gift and you resign and pay for the special election costs (that you cannot run for!)! I thought that may be more doable than a death sentence!

Do the peoples’ business…not just the lobbyists’ business!

Dave

March 25th, 2013
9:38 am

Bob, the latter, the “registry” is a response to Kyle’s, I think silly suggestion that we need to allow “gifts” for pols so we can track the money and see who’s talking to whom about what (that nasty regulation of free speech you are concerned about).

indigo

March 25th, 2013
9:41 am

Bob – 9:20

Do you think our founding fathers intended for us to have the best State Legislature money can buy?

Bruno

March 25th, 2013
9:56 am

It would be much closer to the spirit of that message to prohibit lawmakers from accepting more than $100 worth of gifts in one day — and no more than, say, $500 total in one year. For example, that might mean a $100 ticket to a ballgame, with the legislator buying his own food.

Kyle–I do my best to see both sides of an argument, but don’t recall seeing any arguments in favor of gift giving, other than one legislator saying that the current system of disclosure allows the public to decide for themselves. What possible benefit to the public might there be for legislators to be showered with gifts?? It seems to me that lobbyists can meet with legislators at the state capital, no trips or gifts are needed.

If anyone can think of a legitimate reason, I’d be interested to hear it.

Jefferson

March 25th, 2013
10:07 am

A bribe is a bribe is a bribe, if its more than a coke or a coffee, its a bribe. If they want to talk over lunch, buy your own lunch.

The GOP talks one game for everyone else, but makes exceptions for the lawmakers. Since they are the majority, they own it.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

March 25th, 2013
10:12 am

“The GOP talks one game for everyone else, but makes exceptions for the lawmakers. Since they are the majority, they own it.”

Uh, Jefferson?

The GOP is at least TRYING to fix the problem.

And if your legislator can be bought by a lunch, you’re electing the wrong kind of person to office.

Centrist

March 25th, 2013
10:48 am

I, too, suspect the loopholes in both bills are there on purpose and it is mostly window dressing. Most legislators who get elected are trying to improve their businesses via government and their salaries/ perks/ lobbyist trips, gifts, meals are just further inducements.

stands for decibels

March 25th, 2013
10:48 am

It would be much closer to the spirit of that message to prohibit lawmakers from accepting more than $100 worth of gifts in one day — and no more than, say, $500 total in one year.

Works for me.

/drive-by

Jefferson

March 25th, 2013
10:48 am

T you are full of crap and you know it, so there you are, full .

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

March 25th, 2013
11:11 am

Thanks for providing no useful reply, Jefferson.

Thought you had nothing to add.

@@

March 25th, 2013
11:20 am

Drinks, dinner and a tickets to a ballgame?

Mandate that all three take place on school property. They can drink little cartons of milk, enjoy a lunch tray and attend a high school football/basketball/soccer game. Monies go directly to the school.

Dusty

March 25th, 2013
11:30 am

Down with Santa Claus except at Christmas. No mo gifts! No mo bribery!

Our representatives are being paid by the taxpayers. The lobbyists are paid by the companies they represent.

Business info from lobbyists should be concise and to the point without a waste of time for our paid representatives.

If our representatives think their pay should be supplemented with gifts, better known as bribery, then they should be replaced with those whose interests lie in better governemnt and not better compensation from outsiders.

Somewhere in past time, the word “lobbyist” replaced “crooks”. Ethics used “informational adjustments” instead of bribes. That made it OK to cheat. They were just “doing business”.

Nobody is fooled. Bribery, by any other name, is still bribery which is illegal and unethical. That does not change even under the Gold Dome of governance.

stands for decibels

March 25th, 2013
11:32 am

Anyone else believe that it’s a bit absurd that members of the Georgia legislature are paid but $17,342/year plus $173/day for per diem when in session?

I’m not saying that paying these people something approaching a professional public servant’s salary would automatically eliminate corruption. But it seems that by pinching pennies that way, we probably wind up paying big-time in the long run.

Uncle Jed

March 25th, 2013
12:04 pm

Without a ban, there is no meaningful cap and thus no real reform. Why do they need gifts anyway? The ask for the job “servant”, not “entitled superior citizen”. They get per diem and thus can buy their own meals.

Matz

March 25th, 2013
12:12 pm

Any so-called “ethics reform” in the Georgia General Assembly will be cosmetic only, for the sole purpose of boasting about it in future campaigns. Anyone who even hopes otherwise has no understanding of how this state is — and always has been — run. The letter beside the names have changed (Ah, you fell for it, didn’t you?), but the level of corruption and bullying among the good ol’ boys has not.

The only way to mitigate this eternal corruption is with a real, working, two-party system with real and regular challengers that prevent these bubbas from getting too comfortable in their seats. But Georgia voters are too lazy for that. (It’s not that they’re stupid; they’re just too lazy to pay attention.)

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 25th, 2013
12:14 pm

You know, there is a point where it gets in our faces -

Exclusive: Sasha, Malia Obama Vacation at Bahamas’ ‘Atlantis’ Resort

Another couple million down the hole, for what? Honestly, for what?

What do you libs think of people that pay taxes and abide by the law, we’re suckers?

JamVet

March 25th, 2013
12:24 pm

Good job, Kyle.

This is obviously a topic of great importance to you; as you have written about it repeatedly. As it should be to anyone committed to reigning in these bribed pawns of the “moneyed corporations”. (hat tip Thomas Jefferson)

Keep after ‘em!

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 25th, 2013
12:35 pm

Now’s a good time to lecture the common people about gluttony, let’s hear it from the holier than thou, while our “president” sets the gold standard for gluttony. This human pig has gone beyond gluttony, in fact. It’s one thing for a normal law abiding tax paying citizen to spend every dime he has on pork rinds and black cow, what of a steward of our economy spending OTHER PEOPLE”S HARD EARNED MONEY so he can lavish his fat wife on lobster while he golfs and the kids lounge in the Carribbean?

Take your little bully pulpit and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine, loudmouth.

Politico

March 25th, 2013
12:48 pm

“Take your little bully pulpit and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine, loudmouth.”

Translation: I am just being my bitter self and looking for attention. Nothing new for me. That’s how I roll.

Aesop: just trying to help you shorten your thoughts to make them a little more concise

Glad I could help. Don’t mention it

Good day

:-)

bluecoat

March 25th, 2013
12:53 pm

Jeaously,Jeaously,Jeaously.Wife is not fat.President Obama has other income,than his presidential salary.How he spends his income is none of your business.

Politico

March 25th, 2013
12:55 pm

Kyle

Thanks for your continued efforts on this issue. Not sure what we end up with, if anything, but I doubt much at all would have been done if not the continued efforts of people like yourself.

bluecoat

March 25th, 2013
12:59 pm

make that jealousy,

Road Scholar

March 25th, 2013
1:01 pm

Can anyone tell me why legislators need gifts? Don’t they have office hours, a secretary to make appointments, and a phone to carry on conversations and receive fax and e-mails?

Aesop: Give it a rest! I know the Bushes,Cheney, Boehmer, and McConnell never took a trip on taxpayers dollars, ate lobster (remember they have a home in MAINE), and played golf! I am sure that you know not only what they ate, but the portion size, and what they left uneaten on their plates! Boehmer has been quoted that he likes fine wines, so is he a part of your elitephobia? Fat wife? Classy!

President Obama pays the tab for his personal expenses. His travel and security is on the citizens dollar, because…something new for you..he is the president, people want to hurt/kill him, and he is never out of touch with our leadership. I guess the bread and water your mother feeds you in your basement apartment provides you the necessary security and nourishment to protect your feeble mind and arguments. Or are you upset that people do not want to cause you harm? Insignificant?

stands for decibels

March 25th, 2013
1:12 pm

Thanks for your continued efforts on this issue. Not sure what we end up with, if anything, but I doubt much at all would have been done if not the continued efforts of people like yourself.

Seconded.

MarkV

March 25th, 2013
1:22 pm

When Ralston, whom Kyle quotes, said that that to report what they spent on whom allows the public to “know where the intensity of the lobbying effort is,” it is only partially true, and possibly to a rather small extent, and Kyle’s argument that “a ban would effectively end that transparency” is not convincing. The most the report would do for transparency is to show which lobbyists give those limited gifts as small parts of their lobbying. That is hardly the same as a measure of the overall intensity of the lobbying efforts. A total ban would be a much cleaner way to deal with these bribes.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 25th, 2013
1:26 pm

Why are the low infos so upset with me? Did I strike a nerve with their beloved president Pompous? The sod royal family?

Well, pardon me.

A Flawed Assumption

March 25th, 2013
1:35 pm

I don’t believe that any legislator should receive any gifts from any lobbyist. Of course, the lobbyists should have the right to try to influence politicians by using persuasive speech, but they should never be allowed to buy votes with gifts. Paying politicians to screw the general population is akin to prostitution and that is illegal in our state.

Hillbilly D

March 25th, 2013
1:44 pm

And it would mean the bill that started in Ralston’s hands remained true to the goals he’s set out for our ethics laws.

Kyle

Under the House bill, aren’t gifts still allowed for committees and caucuses, as a whole?

wallbanger

March 25th, 2013
1:48 pm

Ethics in politics? You got to be kidding. You might elect an honest man, but power corrupts, and we have the most corrupt politicians in the world right here, right now.

Rafe Hollister

March 25th, 2013
2:43 pm

Well-

Ethics, if you aint’ gottem you ain’t likely to getem.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 25th, 2013
3:47 pm

More than 145,000 city children — roughly one in five — between 6 and 12 struggle with mental illness or other emotional woes, a new study has found.

The city Health Department’s analysis shows that 6 percent of kids in that age range have been diagnosed with ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and other behavioral problems. That’s 44,000 children.

That’s just the ones they know of.

First of all, would someone like to proclaim that new yorKKK city is a bastion of Conservatism?

liberals destroy everything around them, the only things sacred to them are the trees and co-ckroaches. They berate and castigate their children for “harming” the planet. The kids must spend much of their time wondering how they didn’t get aborted. And where their dad’s at. And why mommy shrieks at them for wanting candy or a soda. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Here, have some condoms. Would you like to change sexes? It’s ok.

pathetic.

Logical Dude

March 25th, 2013
4:02 pm

Kyle says: “That’s the main question legislators must answer by midnight Thursday if they are going to pass ethics reform this year.”

And I predict much hand-waving and stuff that looks like “action”, but will ultimately not come to fruition.
This way, each side (House / Senate) can say “THEY DIDN’T AGREE WITH OUR SIDE, IT’S THEIR FAULT”. and probably get away with it.

Thus resulting in the status quo, nothing changes, lots of blabber, but no conclusions.

I’d really like to see success, but I’ve seen these jokers do this for too long.

Hillbilly D

March 25th, 2013
4:08 pm

Thus resulting in the status quo, nothing changes, lots of blabber, but no conclusions.

That’s been the M O for the last 40 years or so. Maybe they’ll surprise us but that’s not the smart bet.