Your morning jolt: House speaker calls gift cap ‘a gimmick,’ urges independent ethics panel

Advocates of a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers will be at the state Capitol this morning to begin a 13-city bus tour pushing a “yes” vote on the July 31 Republican ballot question addressing the issue.

It will be led by state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, who will also be attending a called meeting of the Senate Ethics Committee. Which may or may not be – the sessions are closed to press and public – considering a complaint lodged against Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville.

On the same topic, House Speaker David Ralston on Wednesday indicated that, rather than a cap on gifts, he’d rather see more secure funding for the panel formerly known as the State Ethics Commission. Ralston made his remarks on the last of a four-day swing through the state by House Republican leaders. According to Jon Gillooly and the Marietta Daily Journal, Ralston said:

”I am not opposed to real ethics reform. … I think the cap is a gimmick, frankly.

“I have said all along: I think the choice that we ought to give Georgians is the current system provides for openness, for transparency, it lets y’all write stories about every nickel and dime that gets spent on us, and I think that gives information to people, and I trust people with that information. …

“Let’s take a look at giving the ethics commission or the transparency and openness commission the resources to do their job, let’s give them autonomy to do their job, so that they are truly independent, and let them deal with real problems rather than try to sell this idea of a cap out there.”

Ralston also said he expected some regions of the state to reject the transportation sales tax — and isn’t too sure of its outcome in metro Atlanta.

***
On Tuesday, 9th District congressional candidate Martha Zoller, the former radio talk show host from Gainesville, issued a press release claiming the endorsement by the American Conservative Union’s political action committee.

After contacting the ACU, the rival Republican campaign of Doug Collins was informed that this was not so. It immediately labeled Zoller a liar. “Martha Zoller should retract her statement and publicly apologize to every voter she has blatantly misled with this inaccuracy,” Collins said.

Late Wednesday, ACU spokeswoman Laura Rigas declared that her organization was to blame for the confusion:

“The American Conservative Union does not endorse candidates. Our ACU PAC, however, does endorse candidates but has no plans to endorse a primary candidate in the race for the Republican seat for the 9th Congressional District of Georgia. We mistakenly communicated that an endorsement had been made where there was no such endorsement. We accept responsibility for this mistake and apologize for any inconvenience. Both candidates are strong conservatives and we wish them well.”

***
That debate in north Fulton County between Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers of Woodstock and Republican challenger Brandon Beach of Alpharetta has stirred up plenty of dust. For those of you still interested, Bob Pepalis of Alpharetta-Milton Patch has posted some great video on the portions of the debate dealing with casino gaming and charter schools. Pepalis intends to post another segment this morning on the discussion of school vouchers.

***
The Douglas County Sentinel this morning reports that a local argument over an endorsement appears to have been settled:

A tweet sent out Tuesday by civil rights leader Andrew Young appears to have ended a controversy over which Georgia House District 62 candidate the former Atlanta mayor was endorsing.

In Twitter language, the tweet reads, “Andrew Young endorses Marvin Arrington Jr. for Georgia House District 62.” The account, @AmbAndrewYoung, has almost 3,000 followers.

Arrington and fellow candidate LaDawn Blackett-Jones have gone back and forth over the endorsement. Jones struck first with a press release in mid June announcing Young’s endorsement of her, but Arrington fired back last week, saying Young was not only endorsing his campaign but appearing at a fundraiser.

***
Georgia Equality on Wednesday issued its list of endorsed candidates – which you can inspect by clicking here. Missing from the roster is any pick in the state House contest between Democratic incumbents Pat Gardner and Rashad Taylor, who have been lumped into the same District 57 in Atlanta.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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47 comments Add your comment

catlady

July 12th, 2012
9:11 am

It’s too bad that Mr. Ralston doesn’t follow in the steps of his father, Willard, who was not only a kind, gracious man but one of the most ethical men in the entire county! OF COURSE Mr. Ralston likes the “rules” (anything goes) the way they are now.

td

July 12th, 2012
9:18 am

A gift cap is a gimmick. Gifts accepted by members of the legislature is a matter that should be left up to the legislature and voters that put him/her into office. Total and immediate reporting should be done on an easily accessible website by the lobbyist with real penalties attached to the lobbyist for not reporting timely. The matter should then be totally left up to the voters. If the people that voted a Rep or Senator into office have no problem with their person going to a Falcons game or the Masters then so be it.

Danny O

July 12th, 2012
9:18 am

FYI: There is a forum tonight at 7pm for PSC candidates. It’s at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church at 1660 N. Decatur Road, Atlanta, GA 30307 (near Emory). It is sponsored by Georgia Interfaith Power and Light. More info on their web page.

td

July 12th, 2012
9:19 am

catlady

July 12th, 2012
9:11 am

If the voters in the Speakers district have no problems with the gifts he receives then why should anyone else?

Danny O

July 12th, 2012
9:21 am

If you change the name of the Commission Formerly Known as the Ethics Commission back to the Ethics Commission then you’re less likely to trip up when trying to get they’re name right.

Just sayin’.

retiredds

July 12th, 2012
9:22 am

Tell Ralston that there should not only be a $100 cap on lobbyists gifts but he also should quadruple the Ethics Commission budget and put real teeth into its enforcement powers. Ralston is a politician and politicians have proven over and over again that they are not to be trusted with $$$$$ thrown their way.

Danny O

July 12th, 2012
9:25 am

Meant to say “their” rather than “they’re”

Trickle Down

July 12th, 2012
9:43 am

Mr. Ralston reminds me of Foghorn Leghorn. “I say son….”

Just Wait

July 12th, 2012
9:46 am

TD…by your reasoning, if everyone thinks it’s O.K. to drive the interstate at 80 MPH, then why bother with speed limits. I will have to “lobby” with the group that thinks “if you’re not doing anything wrong, what’s the issue?”

yuzeyurbrane

July 12th, 2012
9:46 am

Georgia needs all the ethics enhancement it can get. Both the $100 cap and the Ethics Commission autonomy should be enacted.

Church of the painful Truth

July 12th, 2012
9:54 am

I agree with retiredds 100%. The State politicians passed a law several years ago that put a limit on state employees of 25.00.Their justification was that companies could influence decisions on contracts or other legal matters regarding state policy. The old saying “What is good for the goose is good for the gander”.

td

July 12th, 2012
9:59 am

Just Wait

July 12th, 2012
9:46 am

TD…by your reasoning, if everyone thinks it’s O.K. to drive the interstate at 80 MPH, then why bother with speed limits. I will have to “lobby” with the group that thinks “if you’re not doing anything wrong, what’s the issue?”

You are not comparing apples to apples. The elected officials have people to answer to for their actions and it is the people that voted them into office.

If you want to use the same comparison then if I see you going 80 mph then I should be able to pull you over and write you a ticket.

DannyX

July 12th, 2012
10:11 am

td, I think that you will find that the vast majority of Republican voters in this state strongly support the gift cap.

Centrist

July 12th, 2012
10:13 am

jgalloway still ignores the Rogers – Beach debate TSPLOST differences, Ga 400 toll vote Beach missed that would have been the deciding vote to end it, and the Beach statement that he supports a metro wide 1/4% MARTA tax to replace the 1% paid by Fulton and Dekalb where the trains and buses actually run.

He also ignored Rogers answer about that proposed gift tax – that there is no such thing as secure funding when one legislature cannot bind a future legislature on such spending with required balanced budgets. Rogers went on to say he took $0 in gifts, and supports transparent and required disclosure of all gifts and let the voters decide who is being bought.

td

July 12th, 2012
10:17 am

DannyX

July 12th, 2012
10:11 am

td, I think that you will find that the vast majority of Republican voters in this state strongly support the gift cap.

You are probably right but I say that is the RINO coming out in them instead of the Libertarian.

[...] Speaker Ralston also discussed ethics yesterday.  I’d like to hear more about his plan of “giving the ethics commission or [...]

zeke

July 12th, 2012
10:28 am

i agree td, i say let the voters vote on a cap or ban, not their legislators…….it should be on ballot sort of like the transportation tax…..time to end this charade….maybe lobbyists will then have to rely on facts vs favors although you can bet they will find other ways to bride them like hiring their relatives or giving them stuff under the table…..the penalty if caught should be heavy for lobbyist and expulsion for legislator.

DannyX

July 12th, 2012
10:40 am

“Rogers went on to say he took $0 in gifts, and supports transparent and required disclosure of all gifts and let the voters decide who is being bought.”

Rogers gift was the granddaddy of them all! How many of Roger’s constituents can go to their local bank and get a $2.1 million no collateral “I could never pay it back” loan?

Road Scholar

July 12th, 2012
10:53 am

“…I think the cap is a gimmick, frankly.”

I do too. Set the limit at 0. That way their is no doubt whether it causes any influence! Also, have the lobbyist pay a fee that goes directly to the ethics committee budget. Enough of this! Once there was a gift limit to state employees of $0 imposed by the state. What is good for the goose…

bullFrog

July 12th, 2012
10:58 am

So has Mr. Collins come out yet to apologize to Mrs. Zoller for calling her a liar? I think he “… should retract [his] statement and publicly apologize to every voter [he] has blatantly misled with this inaccuracy.”

hiram

July 12th, 2012
11:00 am

Why $100 – why not $0?

The function of professional lobbyists is to persuade the government to do something and the lobbyists have a financial incentive to succeed.

Representatives of the government, on the other hand, supposedly function as professional agents for the citizens, and are entrusted to represent the citizens’ best interest.

It should be obvious that, the only reason lobbyists provide meals, drinks, tickets, travel, etc. to our agents is to increase their chances of success in persuading them to do something, which is totally contrary to our interests, and or pocketbooks.

All government business should be conducted in a government office, and decisions made should be based on reason, not pseudo friendships. It is crazy for citizens to allow professional persuaders an advantage in negotiations.

Sin-I-Cull

July 12th, 2012
11:06 am

The people will deceide by vote…the same people that elected Mr. Ralston

td

July 12th, 2012
11:13 am

hiram

July 12th, 2012
11:00 am

Again you live in some fantasy world where you believe lawyers spend a great deal of their own money and give up many billable hours per year for a job that pays $19,000 per year out of the goodness of their heart to serve the people.

hiram

July 12th, 2012
11:15 am

@ td
My point, exactly!

Kris

July 12th, 2012
11:17 am

Come on Ethics and ralston in the same sentence…HA HA!

This is GA #1 in Corruption
LAST in Education.

And the list goes on

JR

July 12th, 2012
11:20 am

It seems some of our legislators has been trying to pass off transparency as accountability; they have to disclose contributions and if the public doesn’t like what they see they can elect someone else. Being that the general public has no knowledge that such disclosure sites exist, I see little to no accountability created by this “transparency,” which has done little to solve the problem’s associated with accepting lobbyist’s gifts. So, yes, we can put a cap on gifts and we can require the lobbyists and the legislators to continue to disclose such gifts. However, transparency without consequences does not create accountability. Enforcing a cap may create a limit and serve to offer some consequence if broken, but what legislator is going to disclose a gift over $100, knowing they were not supposed to accept it? NONE. A cap simply creates a black market. While listing contributions does not create accountability, I would much rather the representatives openly admit to accepting such contributions, than have them hiding a gift that is over $100, and it is pretty safe to say gifts in excess of $100 will continue to be given i.e. tickets to sporting events, concerts, etc. So a cap, regardless of who votes it into existence, does not solve our problem. We must elect legislators who are themselves willing to turn down gifts from lobbyists and make decisions in the best intrest of their constituents. They must be not only transparent, but honest enough, yes I said it HONEST enough, that we can trust that transparency. They must also be accessible enough that the average constituent can hold them accountable. There are few, if any sitting legislators that are willing to take these measures, and Michael Caldwell, who is running for State House District 20 in Cherokee County is one of the few candidates I am aware of that meets the criteria and actively runs his campaign in this open, honest, transparent, and easily accountable manner. We need more options like him.

Auntie Christ

July 12th, 2012
11:22 am

10-15 years from now, when the ramifications from the Citizens United decision are finally apparent, it won’t matter in the least whether we approve of these people taking $100 or $ 1 Million, the billionaires like Koch bothers will be financing every right wing election campaign and determining every single outcome from the Presidency down to the local town council. When they own virtually every political office in the country, and can ensure no one can compete in a campaign to unseat theoir incumbents, whether a politician accepts a bribe or not will be immaterial.

As Tip O’neill said and Galloway’s slogan states, all politics is local. Right now the billionaires money is concentrating on defeating Obama and other national dems. Going forward, their efforts will begin to concentrate on the state, then local elections. A few $100 Million each from a few hundred billionaires every election cycle is enough to influence almost any and every election in this country, and amounts to a drop in the bucket to someone worth $5-10 Billion. We had the best government money could buy before Citizens United, before long we will have the worst money can buy.

Auntie Christ

July 12th, 2012
11:33 am

The guy that thinks this is his blog said: “jgalloway still ignores the Rogers – Beach debate”

News Flash ‘centrist,’ this ain’t your blog, it’s Galloway’s. He can ignore or write about anything he likes. Where’s your blog? Tell me so I can ignore it.

DannyX

July 12th, 2012
11:35 am

“And the list goes on”

Most corrupt politicians. Most bank failures in a state government that has failed bankers heading the Senate and House banking committees.

All hail one party rule!!

Aquagirl

July 12th, 2012
11:39 am

The elected officials have people to answer to for their actions and it is the people that voted them into office.

The problem is the Speaker exercises disproportionate control outside his district. If the yayhoos of the 7th want to let Mr. Ralston drive 80 MPH in their district, that’s their business. Unfortunately he’s driving 180 MPH where he darn well pleases because lobbyists know he can bottle up any legislation, depriving MY Representative of any say in the matter.

Why is a $100 cap so scary?

Tom B.

July 12th, 2012
11:40 am

Why not both the cap (at $0) and reform? Too many politicians getting “rich”.

zeke

July 12th, 2012
11:40 am

auntie christ, after romney discovered to invest in chinese company and profitted from outsourcing maybe just maybe americans will realize the lesser of two evils and revolt against big money and the pols they buy….obama no saint but one has to agree with santorum, romney the worst possible candidate (althought newt was pretty bad)…..even christie of nj is firing shots at romney

td

July 12th, 2012
11:46 am

hiram

July 12th, 2012
11:15 am

@ td
My point, exactly!

Then come out and say it man. Every politician, just like every other person in a business, works to make money for his family. The difference is a company watches its employees and will fire them if they go over the line. The elected officials boss is the people that elected him/her to the office. Now the supporters are wanting a bureaucrat to administer a set of rules about the people I hire and fire. Might I add a note that what are the penalties for going over the limit.

Kris

July 12th, 2012
11:53 am

Waiting on the voters to oust the corrupt politicians takes too much time . GA needs a law in place place to catch and arrest (this is GA along with a free cavity search) and punish those that commit crimes while in office. Wonder if rogers wil like this new law. After all he and his cronies pass laws for the citizens tat include arrest and cavity search on innocent citizens.

hiram

July 12th, 2012
12:04 pm

td,
Your argument makes no sense, and the scary thing is, you’re kamikazi logic is apparently representative of the majority of Georgia’s registered voters . That is why the state’s politicians can do whatever they want, with no fear of getting caught.

Marlboro Man

July 12th, 2012
12:20 pm

Ask Ralston what he would pay for YOUR vote, if he can sell his votes why can’t I sell mine.

td

July 12th, 2012
12:42 pm

Kris

July 12th, 2012
11:53 am

“Waiting on the voters to oust the corrupt politicians takes too much time . GA needs a law in place place to catch and arrest (this is GA along with a free cavity search) and punish those that commit crimes while in office.”

Can you please show me where taking a reported gift that is over any amount of money is a crime? I am pretty sure these are all civil offenses as the new proposed law is. The only way a politician can be removed from office in Georgia is to have committed and been convicted of a felony.

Bernie

July 12th, 2012
12:43 pm

The Crooks and Thieves are really pushing hard on this T-SPLOOST vote. Something good surely must have been promised to these Georgia so called Legislators, I typically refer to them as “PIMPS IN SUITS” for they are only concerned about their own personal welfare as well as their families,friends and key associates, just like a PIMP on the street to his women. Mind you they think we are all WOMEN! Just tell us anything and we are suppose to believe it as fact and say YES to everything they desire no matter what.

The polling results of FAILURE concerning the T-SPLOST vote must be growing to get these “BAGS OF MEAT WITH EYES” on a tour bus to go around 13 city tour to speak to the citizens who already by a wide margin who thinks a Tranportation Plan is needed but NOT this particluar T-SPLOST plan.

This is a first…Georgia Legislators do not venture into the communities to discuss any type of serious issue. They have always felt there is no need to do so, because they always know what is better for the citizens of Georgia than the citizens themselves.

Every venue they have planned to visit should be void of people so that they will get the message “NO means “NO” on the T-SPLOST vote.

td

July 12th, 2012
12:45 pm

Marlboro Man

July 12th, 2012
12:20 pm

“Ask Ralston what he would pay for YOUR vote,”

Every time he picks up the phone and talks to one of his voters about a issue or sees one in Blue Ridge or at church and listens and then makes a phone call to a state agency or proposes legislation then he has paid for the vote.

Bernie

July 12th, 2012
12:46 pm

I have an IDEA why not have them go to the local DMV offices and talk to all of the Georgia citizens waiting in hours long lines waiting just to get a drivers license to live.
I am sure none of them would think this is a good idea at ALL! They surely would get an earful then and will not be about the T-SPLOST for sure!

bart

July 12th, 2012
12:47 pm

it is beyond me why we keep re-electing the same clowns to office over and over again. Most of them don’t even get opposition. It’s time we had new blood in Atlanta but it doesn’t look like that will happen. Incumbents are too entrenched and have too much corporate money. No wonder GA is first in corruption and at the bottom in education.

Eustis

July 12th, 2012
12:53 pm

td

“If the voters in the Speakers district have no problems with the gifts he receives then why should anyone else?”

I wouldn’t have a problem if his vote didn’t impact people outside his District.

Shar

July 12th, 2012
1:01 pm

The people’s representatives should be able to accept any and all favors ad gifts that are equally available to their constituents. Cleaner air, cheaper power, yes. Gold club privileges on Delta, resort stays, fancy dinners, tickets to events, no. A simple, fair standard.

And to td – the framers of the Georgia Constitution, like almost all writers of other states’ constitutions, specifically intended to have only employed, productive people to serve in the Legislature. That is the reason for the limit on the number of days in the annual session and it is the reason for the relatively small renumeration. Georgia legislators are not supposed to live off of, or even profit much from, their public service. They are supposed to make their living in a separate profession. Thus defending gifts to increase their ‘paltry’ salaries (which are of course padded by per diems, travel and staff budgets, etc) is contrary to the original intent.

Jethro

July 12th, 2012
3:22 pm

Well said, Shar. Td, as Shar said, serving as a member of the General Assembly is only a part-time job. The Assembly is only in session for a mere 40 days and 40 nights a year. Also, I don’t see how flying around in private jets and attending the Masters helps members of the Assembly pay their bills or provide for their families.

Next, we could vote out our representatives, but the ones that we vote in after would eventually succumb to the same temptations of receiving gifts from lobbyists and of giving precedence to special interests over the general welfare of the state. This is the exact reason why our country as a whole decided to place term limits on the presidency. We could have continued to simply vote out the presidents that stayed in office too long, but we decided collectively to protect a particular principle – the principle of preventing prolonged authority from turning into tyranny – from the sporadic will of the majority. Similarly, we should pass legislation to protect ourselves from inevitable government corruption and to keep the darker sides of our representatives from getting the best of them.

Finally, Ralston is correct in arguing that we should empower the State Ethics Commission, but that is not enough. If we want real ethics reform, transparent and efficient government, and representatives that legislate for the general welfare of the people, we must also impose a limit on gifts that representatives can receive.

Michael #1

July 12th, 2012
9:12 pm

TD, you keep puting your foot in your mouth.

Bill Walston

July 12th, 2012
9:49 pm

Who’s kidding who? Any money (and almost all gifts) accepted is a bribe. Even if the intent of the giver is otherwise. It’s just the nature of money.

Note that legal and accounting work for political campaigns are exempted from being reported. And also exempted are contributions to the victory celebration parties. All bribes.

By the way, the qualifying fee of nearly all candidates is paid by their party.. That, too, is a bribe.

Bill

Is it one person, one vote OR
is it one dollar, one vote?

I think we know. And the money to votes ratios support it.

Question Man

July 13th, 2012
9:04 am

How can a cap on gifts to legislators be a “gimmick” if all states but Georgia and one or two others have such limits?