Ethics bill isn’t perfect, but it is progress

It appears we have an ethics bill.

Speaker David Ralston just confirmed from the House side what the AJC had heard from senators earlier today. Namely, that the two sides, urged along by Gov. Nathan Deal, agreed in the wee hours of Thursday to a compromise between the two main* ethics bills they each passed earlier in the session.

The text of the bill has not yet been made available publicly, but the compromise appears to have been chiefly along two grounds:

First, the House agreed to drop its insistence on a ban on one-on-one lobbyist gifts to legislators and accept the Senate’s preference for a cap — albeit a cap of $75 rather than $100. In exchange, the House won more carve-outs it included in its original version of the bill, HB 142. Those exceptions include gifts (think meals) provided by lobbyists to entire caucuses, the nature of which is subject to approval by each chamber’s ethics committee, as well as allowances for spouses and staff members to accompany legislators on official business underwritten by lobbyists (think conferences held on the Georgia coast or elsewhere).

Second, the Senate moved significantly toward the House’s position regarding who must register as a lobbyist. Anyone who is compensated by the entity for which they lobby must register, as must anyone reimbursed by an organization for more than $250 of lobbying expenses in a year. That last provision about reimbursements is intended to exempt some citizen activists who believed they’d been targeted by House leadership in retaliation for their agitation about ethics.
In all, Ralston said he didn’t get everything he wanted but it was “better to get something than nothing.”

Is he right?

I think so. In some respects, either the House bill or the Senate bill would have been stronger than the compromise bill. Certainly, I would have preferred to see an aggregate cap on gifts if legislators are going with a cap instead of a ban.

But — assuming there are no unpleasant surprises in the final text when we finally see it — this bill will “move the ball down the field” a bit, as Ralston put it. Having a limit trumps not having a limit, and this measure will preserve a degree of transparency about where lobbyists think it’s worthwhile to spend a little money on lawmakers. I think that’s useful for the public.

And nothing says we can’t keep pushing for more progress next year.

*HB 142 was not the only ethics bill passed this year. HB 143, relating to campaign contribution disclosure, was also passed by each chamber. The best part of the bill was a requirement that lawmakers disclose donations made in the days before the start of a legislative session, which currently can wait until after the session ends for disclosure — an obvious lack of transparency when bills are being passed in the meantime.

But the Senate added a provision disallowing non-legislators from raising money during legislative sessions; currently, only people who have already been elected to office face that restriction. Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, called the provision an effort to “level the playing field.” Others called it “incumbent protection.” I agree with the latter sentiment, and it’s my understanding the bill is unlikely to pass this year.

– By Kyle Wingfield

117 comments Add your comment

southpaw

March 28th, 2013
1:56 pm

Shocker. I almost would have bet that the conflict between the House bill and the Senate bill would result in NO results. Good thing I’m not a betting man. Now there’s one more good thing for the legislators to do: GO HOME!

Centrist

March 28th, 2013
2:02 pm

“Having a limit trumps not having a limit”.

Sad that the carve outs and the limit is not an aggregate, but individual gifts which can be piled as high as necessary to gain favor. This only shows how corrupt the system is and the lengths that are taken to protect it.

Kyle Wingfield

March 28th, 2013
2:06 pm

Centrist: And we’ll keep reporting on those piles.

At some point, an aggregate limit is an absolute necessity to avoid those situations.

Hillbilly D

March 28th, 2013
2:07 pm

So there’s a $75 cap; is that $75 a day, a month, or just $75 a gift? Haven’t seen it but I’m guessing it’s $75 a gift, which means they could give multiple gifts in one day, conceivably.

Those exceptions include gifts (think meals) provided by lobbyists to entire caucuses, the nature of which is subject to approval by each chamber’s ethics committee, as well as allowances for spouses and staff members to accompany legislators on official business underwritten by lobbyists (think conferences held on the Georgia coast or elsewhere).

You could drive a semi truck through that loophole, I would think.

Exceptions to the $75 cap include committee dinners, dinners for caucuses and lobbyist-funded travel, with some limitations. Meals for local delegations — which could be as small as a single legislator — reportedly are not included.

That’s from this article

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/deal-reported-on-lobbyist-gift-reform/nW6Qh/

But the Senate added a provision disallowing non-legislators from raising money during legislative sessions; currently, only people who have already been elected to office face that restriction.

Put me squarely in the “incumbent protection” camp on this one.

assuming there are no unpleasant surprises in the final text when we finally see it

That’s a pretty big assumption and it usually takes a year or two for all the loopholes to really surface for public view, once they are put in to practice.

In summation, my view is that this is largely a dog and pony show and we’ll be right back here in a few short years, talking about how something must be done about ethics legislation……….pretty much the same as it’s been for the last 35-40 years. It’s a show that never ends.

Kyle Wingfield

March 28th, 2013
2:12 pm

Hillbilly: You’re right, it’s $75 per gift and that can happen multiple times per day. Thus, my belief an aggregate limit is still needed.

john hayes

March 28th, 2013
2:13 pm

Progress??? A three-toed sloth moves only when necessary and then only very slowly. They sleep 20 hours per day. I guess some would say that when they do move that is progress in motion. Personally, I prefer if the legislature spent their 40 days sleeping the entire time. They wouldn’t get anything done. About the same as this session. What a bunch of liars and crooks. They sell their votes to highest paying lobbyists and go back home and tell their constituents how hard they’re working for them. And we keep sending these clowns back up their to get their pockets filled. Shame on us! John Hayes Pelham, Ga.

Hillbilly D

March 28th, 2013
2:16 pm

I think every time a lobbyist buys them a meal, we should subtract a like amount from their per diem.

Anton Chigurh

March 28th, 2013
2:26 pm

“And nothing says we can’t keep pushing for more progress next year.”

I think the odds are against that happening though.

Politico

March 28th, 2013
2:28 pm

Hillbilly: You make some great points. This didn’t solve that much.

Kyle: While I don’t think the legislature gave us a great bill and I don’t think it was by coincidence, I do thank you for your efforts to keep this issue in the forefront.

emo

March 28th, 2013
2:28 pm

I guess they’ll have to pass it and then try to keep us from knowing what’s in it. Whatever it is, it will be only in their own best interests, never ours.

Aquagirl

March 28th, 2013
2:30 pm

my view is that this is largely a dog and pony show

What Hillbilly said. It’s the last day and invisible text with (we think) gaping holes is wandering around the Legislature. Very impressive. /sarc

Peadawg

March 28th, 2013
2:30 pm

“Thus, my belief an aggregate limit is still needed.”

Duh. Until then this bill isn’t that great.

Georgia, The "New Mississippi"

March 28th, 2013
2:31 pm

Our state legislature functions like a cancer in the body of its host.

Kyle Wingfield

March 28th, 2013
2:34 pm

Peadawg: I do think we are more likely to get an aggregate limit once a cap is in place than we were to get all that in one fell swoop. So, from that standpoint, this bill probably moves us closer to getting that.

@@

March 28th, 2013
2:34 pm

I don’t know why they have to complicate the issue.

Like I said before, there are school cafeterias in every reps district and near the state capitol…why not wine and dine ‘em there? Even if they have to travel outside their district to see some fancy schmancy development or the like, there’s a school cafeteria nearby.

Tater tots and fish sticks….baked not fried. We wouldn’t want ‘em gettin’ fat or anything.

Simplistic? Perhaps, but then sometimes a KISS is just a kiss. Keep it simple stoopids!!!

indigo

March 28th, 2013
2:37 pm

If anyone believes that “ethics bill” will be worth even the paper it’s printed on, they have much to learn.

Peadawg

March 28th, 2013
2:37 pm

Kyle Wingfield
March 28th, 2013
2:34 pm

I’ll believe it when I see it. This bill as is currently is a joke.

Scott Fresno

March 28th, 2013
2:38 pm

So, if a lobbyist want to give a legislator five $75 tickets to a game, can he simply hand them to the legislator one at a time and say that it is 5 separate $75 gifts and thus falls under the cap?

Hillbilly D

March 28th, 2013
2:39 pm

Tater tots and fish sticks….baked not fried.

Baked fish sticks? Oh, the humanity! (ISH)

@@

March 28th, 2013
2:41 pm

I do thank you for your efforts to keep this issue in the forefront.

Ditto ^^^ that, Kyle.

Jerry Eads

March 28th, 2013
2:42 pm

It’s a start – hopefully not a finish. The job seems to attract crooks, and the crooked will continue to find creative ways to be crooked and get away with it.

Lest we forget, we’re the ones gullible enough to elect them. Listen next election cycle to your gaggle of shysters looking to pig out in the trough. Do your best to select the least piggy. Regardless of party affiliation. Those of you who blindly knee-jerk to either side of the fence are the problem. Not the crooks.

Matz

March 28th, 2013
2:43 pm

If you think this demonstrates any progress whatsoever toward the lofty, laughable notion that our state’s elected officials should conduct themselves ethically and with transparency, then I have a nice mountain chalet to sell you, on the shimmering, snow-covered slopes of Ocala.

@@

March 28th, 2013
2:52 pm

Hillbilly:

No matter how you cook ‘em, fish sticks are DISGUSTING.

During my short stint in the public school system, children behind in their lunch payments were punished with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich complete with a carton of milk.

Hellooooooooooooo

Aquagirl

March 28th, 2013
2:56 pm

there are school cafeterias in every reps district and near the state capitol…why not wine and dine ‘em there?

I hate to admit when @@ has the post of the day, but there ya go. I’d pay money to see a lobbyist trying to shmooze over tater tots.

bluecoat

March 28th, 2013
2:58 pm

Well Ralston can use his gained knowledge from his train trip to build a fast freighter pulling tank cars filled with TN.river water.

Cutty

March 28th, 2013
3:02 pm

Can lobbyists all chip in $75 and pay for a larger gift, say $500?

Why should spouses be included on official state business?

These doesn’t move the ball downfield at all. It’s more of a kneel down since the clock is running out.

Hillbilly D

March 28th, 2013
3:20 pm

No matter how you cook ‘em, fish sticks are DISGUSTING.

You must be cutting your fish sticks off the wrong fish tree.

Kyle Wingfield

March 28th, 2013
3:22 pm

Cutty: The Senate’s original language would have prevented that. But it might well have allowed drinks, dinner, a ticket to a ball game and drinks at said ball game to be counted as separate expenditures. Which is why I favored an aggregate limit and will keep pushing for one.

What does this compromise bill say about the above? Hard to say, as neither the press nor most legislators have seen it. And yes, that’s starting to make some of us nervous.

southpaw

March 28th, 2013
3:27 pm

Do they have to pass the bill before we can see what’s in it? That sounds familiar for some reason.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 28th, 2013
3:32 pm

The problem is the game itself ( Lobbyists )

All this does is change the rules which just means they will change their methods and just keep doing what they have been doing .

@@

March 28th, 2013
3:41 pm

Cheesy:

The Right to Lobby

Guaranteed in The Constitution.

Mikey D

March 28th, 2013
3:43 pm

This bill is nothing more than a gimmick, implemented so our wonderful legislative “leaders” can return home and brag about how committed they are to ethics reform, all the while continuing to rake in bribes, oops I mean gifts, hand over foot. Anything short of a total ban is an abysmal failure, especially given the resounding message that the voters sent last year. Hopefully many of these protectors of the status quo will find themselves in primary challenges next year and subsequently find their behinds in the unemployment line. Absolutely pathetic.

@@

March 28th, 2013
3:47 pm

Obama and G.O.P. Inching a Little Closer on Medicare

It all remains to be seen but really…..would our liberals ever anticipate that Obama would follow ERIC CANTOR’S lead?

schnirt

…the president told House Republicans that he was open to combining Medicare’s coverage for hospitals and doctor services. That would create a single deductible that could increase out-of-pocket costs for many future beneficiaries, but also could pay for a cap on their total expenses and reduce the need to buy Medigap supplementary insurance.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, proposed much the same in a speech in February. “We should begin by ending the arbitrary division between Part A, the hospital program, and Part B, the doctor services,” he said. “We can create reasonable and predictable levels of out-of-pocket expenses without forcing seniors to rely on Medigap plans.”

While Mr. Cantor’s proposal got little attention at the time, its echo by Mr. Obama hints at a new route toward compromise — in contrast with the budget that House Republicans passed this month that has no chance of Senate approval.

So why did Cantor’s proposal receive little attention? Was it because he was a Republican?

@@

March 28th, 2013
3:49 pm

I’d pay money to see a lobbyist trying to shmooze over tater tots.

And among the “little people”.

Jefferson

March 28th, 2013
4:20 pm

They want free lunch, they should be buying the voter’s lunch. Better or painting turds ?

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 28th, 2013
4:24 pm

S&P gains 0.4% for the day, closing at a record high of 1,569. Dow posts best first quarter since 1998, adding 11%.

Thank you President Obama.

It took 5 years but we have finally recovered from the Bush recession.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

March 28th, 2013
4:27 pm

Cheesy:

The Right to Lobby

Guaranteed in The Constitution.

So was slavery

Despite the freedoms demanded in the Declaration and the freedoms reserved in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, slavery was not only tolerated in the Constitution, but it was codified.

Dave

March 28th, 2013
4:57 pm

I’d like an explanation of how a $75, as many times a day as lobbyist wants, “gift” is anything but business as usual. Kyle, this is not progress, it is cover. “Having a limit trumps not having a limit….” Having a ban trumps a stupid and meaningless “limit.” The only problem our leaders will have with this reform is trying to figure out how to shift the bottles of wine and the tip on to the lobbyists’ tabs at the high end restaurants. I suppose the wine and desserts will go on to separate bills. Let’s see, an installment bribe account. The possibilities are endless and while I shouldn’t be unkind, anyone that thinks this sham is a good thing needs some remedial something or other.

dabir dalton

March 28th, 2013
5:06 pm

Until the Georgia legislature passes a ban on both gifts and professional lobbying – only private citizens should have the right to seek redress from the legislature which means that if a corporation wants a favor then the CEO must come in person instead of hiring someone else to make his case. I will continue to label the Georgia legislature as a crime syndicate and den of thieves while holding the toes of chief hypocrites nathan deal and ralston and the average two faced conservative voter obsessed with voting these modern day criminals into office to the flames of my pen.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

March 28th, 2013
5:13 pm

$75 will get you a seat and one beer at Turner Field, so this baby will never pass.

$75 will get you throwed out of a strip club.

td

March 28th, 2013
5:23 pm

Today’s discussion is prime evidence as to why these types of ethics rules never work and are way more trouble then they are worth. Should it be this limit, should it be that limit. What about this circumstance or that circumstance.

Ethics and what people believe is or is not ethical behavior is subjective to the individual and can never be agreed too by everyone. Having books and books of laws describing certain circumstances is playing the game of the left and is in no way a conservative value.

Sunshine is the best policy and is what I support. Lobbyist should report all expenses and those expenses are reported on a easily searchable website. The lobbyist should be required to give a short definition as to what they are advocating for. The voter can then take a look and decide if their Senator or Representing in the manner that they feel is ethical enough to continue to receive their vote. The news media can do article after article about bills pending and who is receiving what and their vote on the bill.

Dave

March 28th, 2013
5:25 pm

The sad thing about this charade is that our leaders will get away with it. We are for practical purposes a one party state. Folks leaning Republican aren’t going to dump their folks for the Dems over this. While I’m going to be really, really, really disappointed in Sen. Carter and Rep. Oliver if it turns out they voted for this thing, I’m not going to become a Republican. There aren’t any real challengers for the seats of the incumbents. And they know this so they know they can keep the perks as long as they smile and spout whichever side of the issue of the day floats their constituents’ boats.

td

March 28th, 2013
5:28 pm

dabir dalton

March 28th, 2013
5:06 pm

“Until the Georgia legislature passes a ban on both gifts and professional lobbying – only private citizens should have the right to seek redress from the legislature”

Why? If I belong to a certain group of like minded individuals that believe a certain action should be taken by the legislature why should we not be able to ban together, pool out resources and hire a professional lobbyist to advocate our postilion? You know like the NRA or a group of citizens that do not want to see a road running through their neighborhood.

td

March 28th, 2013
5:31 pm

Dave

March 28th, 2013
5:25 pm

If you are upset with the way MMO or JC is representing your interest then why do you not run against one of them in a primary? Running for a state house seat or a Senate seat is not expensive. You just have to convince enough like minded individuals in your local community that your ideas are better then the ideas of the people currently in charge.

Dave

March 28th, 2013
5:36 pm

td,

1) I’d never be elected.

2) I have other things to do.

3) Running may be cheap, winning isn’t (which is a whole different problem).

4) Being a member of the club, from what I’ve seen gets you nowhere – the big boys and girls tell the newbies what is going to happen.

I see you around here when I visit, you care, spend some money and time and make a difference!

@@

March 28th, 2013
5:41 pm

td:

…should report all expenses and those expenses are reported on a easily searchable website.

Some time back Kyle directed us to a site that showed how much one of my reps, whom I’d voted for, had “consumed”. Thinking him a bit fat, I voted for his opponent next go ’round. Based on what I read about and from his opponent, I can’t decide whether I’ve jumped from the frying pan into the fire or from the fire into the frying pan.

It was like a frickin’ cat fight between two men.

Not to be partisan or anything but they’re both registered democrats.

td

March 28th, 2013
6:03 pm

Dave

March 28th, 2013
5:36 pm

td,

1) I’d never be elected.

2) I have other things to do.

3) Running may be cheap, winning isn’t (which is a whole different problem).

4) Being a member of the club, from what I’ve seen gets you nowhere – the big boys and girls tell the newbies what is going to happen.

I see you around here when I visit, you care, spend some money and time and make a difference!

I do spend a some money and some time. I belong to my county political party and am involved in the process. It is sad that my county votes 70% for one party and I belong to that counties party and we rarely have more then 50 people in a county of 150,000

md

March 28th, 2013
6:08 pm

Lobbyist overheard talking to a salesperson:

“I’ll take 50,000 gifts to go, don’t care what they are as long as they are all under $75″.

Dusty

March 28th, 2013
6:13 pm

What a waste of time. Our time, the readers’ time, the legislators’ time, the voters’ time, EVERYBODY’s Time.

Honesty is so outdated that you can’t even find it any more. Bribery is dishonest and that is the sole purpose of lobbying.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that you can now get a degree in LOBBYING at your local university, pretty women prefered in the field. I’m sure top salaries are found in this “profession”.

Bah humbug. .Forget ethics. .They should call this effort “BRIBERY WITH BABES.” and give this corruption its proper name. .

Finn McCool (the system isn't broken; it's fixed)

March 28th, 2013
6:18 pm

Bob Barrrrrrrrrrrrrr