Those new Senate rules: $100 gift cap, but private citizens remain barred from filing ethics complaints

We’ve got a copy of the new Senate rules about to be approved by the chamber. Click here for your copy, or browse through it here:

From a quick reading:

The same rules that put a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers include a large loophole for travel, and also shrinks the list of those who may file complaints alleging violations to the Senate Ethics Committee – dropping “volunteers” from the list.

Complaints may only be brought by “a Senator or Senate staff, aides, or interns.” I.e., those who receive a paycheck from the chamber.

You’ll recall that the recent complaint against Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour was originally filed with the state ethics commission by a junior majoring in political science at Georgia Gwinnett College, who compared Balfour’s mileage claims and found lobbyists reported buying Balfour meals on the same dates in August in New Orleans and San Antonio.

The state ethics commission referred the complaint to Senate Ethics Committee – which rewrote the complaint and re-filed it as a complaint brought by the entire committee. The private citizen was removed as a party to the action. So the ban on complaints generated by private citizens remains unchanged.

The new rules also increase restrictions intended to keep such complaints from public disclosure.

Here are the exceptions to the $100 gift cap contained in the rules:

– Awards, plaques, mementos “in recognition of the recipient’s civic, charitable, political, professional, or public service;

– “Food, beverages, or event registration or admission made available to all members of the General Assembly, the Senate, or any caucus, committee, or subcommittee of such bodies.” Call it the “Wild Hog clause.”

– Expenses for “admission, registration, food, beverages, travel, and lodging attributed to participating in events, seminars, or educational programs sponsored by or in conjunction with a civic, charitable, governmental, educational, professional, community, or business organization or institution where attendance is related to the Senator’s official duties.” So junkets – er, informational searches – would still be allowed.

– “Promotional items generally distributed to the general public or to public officers”;

– “Unsolicited items temporarily loaned to the Senator for the purpose of testing, evaluation, or review, if the Senator has no personal beneficial interest in the eventual acquisition of the item loaned;”

– “Informational material, publications, memberships, or subscriptions related to the Senator’s staff, aides performance of his or her official duties.” Free magazine subscriptions for everybody.

According to these same rules, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle would wield the balance of power in the Senate via a newly constituted committee on assignments composed of the lieutenant governor, the Senate president pro tem, the majority leader, and two senators designated by the lieutenant governor.

Other items worth noting:

– Tthe new rules appear to limit the ability of the lieutenant governor to pick and choose who can wield the gavel over the chamber in his stead. The new rules state that he can only give that duty to the president pro tem.

– The rules also establish a new committee and, thus, a new chairmanship: The Senate Judiciary, Non-Civil, Committee.

– Points of personal priviledge – those short speeches made by senators on topics of their own choice – have been moved back to the top of the daily calendar. The previous Senate administration had positioned them at the bottom, amid grumbling that the move was intended to stifle dissent.

– Maybe it’s new, and maybe it isn’t, but rules for media in the Senate now include this:

Photographers and television camerapersons may NOT film or record the desk or any document or object on the desk of a Senator, unless permission is granted by the member.

Those senators who play solitaire on their laptops now have protection.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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60 comments Add your comment

oppo

January 14th, 2013
10:43 am

As expected. the pigs are just looking for a little public fluff to cover up their outrageous unethical behavior at the trough. the senate continues to be a joke.

Say, What? Why Vote? corporate and wealthy donors pick these GOP shills

January 14th, 2013
10:43 am

Really, ethics reform is a liberal conspiracy, as Speaker Ralston said, after he appointed his law partner to a state judgeship. Maybe the financial dealings of his Blue Ridge law firm need scrutiny. Or Wheeler Dealer Deal’s recovery from bankruptcy since his election to Governor should be examined. If we had investigative reporting, maybe these folks could do the perp walk.

Now, these GOP shills don’t even want citizens involved in government. What next? Return to debtors prison for citizens who are behind on their taxes, and added benefits (life-long health care, pensions) for the GOP elites in state gubbermunt?

Vicki

January 14th, 2013
10:55 am

This is so sad…….

bigdawg88

January 14th, 2013
11:00 am

Well, you guys got what you asked (elected) for! Enjoy!!!

Why do we have a Swnate?

January 14th, 2013
11:00 am

This is just so sad … So the Senate can feed itself but the ones who voted them in cannot say a word and cannot even lodge a compliant. Are in the 20th century or have we regressed back to the 18th?

atllaw191

January 14th, 2013
11:01 am

The gallows for all of them!

Reality Check

January 14th, 2013
11:05 am

What a stupid move. The $100 gift cap was great but it will be over shadowed by barring private citizens from filing ethics complaints.

td

January 14th, 2013
11:06 am

I hear all this complaining but I have yet to see any of the complainers run for office on ethics rules.

dmr

January 14th, 2013
11:07 am

That’s not a loophole, that’s gulf.

GoldDomeGirl

January 14th, 2013
11:08 am

So, under these new rules, Speaker Ralston’s $17,000 trip to review a European rail system would STILL be allowed….with the loophole for “travel” and “review.” These good old boys are back to their old tricks…continuing to defang the ethics watchdog.

atlnot

January 14th, 2013
11:08 am

Seems like laws are in place only for citizen so that the politicians can do the law breaking. I get to slap you in the face but then I create a law forbidding retaliation. That’s how our system is set up. I guess laws are meant for breaking. Those that follow them will be on the bottom of the totem pole.

jerryeads

January 14th, 2013
11:15 am

Hm. So I can see one of these crooks standing on the street corner taking a half mil from some lobbyist but I can’t tell anybody? So much for democracy. Well, it’s our fault. We elect these shysters.
On the plus side, my guess is that the courts would toss this one in a heartbeat. Too bad it has to come to that.

Timmy

January 14th, 2013
11:19 am

Ethics is Bull(%@p. If you don’t know how to behave by your late teens; then, you can’t be taught. Wonder how a voter’s boycott would work during the next election cycle.

JD

January 14th, 2013
11:26 am

The AJC needs to have a special section for citizen ethics complaints. You may not be able to report it to the Senate, but enough publicity will still bring a spotlight on the offending party. At least I hope the state senate doesn’t control the editorial staff.

Porkchopicus of Borg

January 14th, 2013
11:29 am

Here’s my counter-proposal: Every state Senator or Congressman can have one free meal; the Wild Hog Supper.

Now get the f*** to work. And no more gifts of ANY kind, no matter how inexpensive they might be.

First offense: felony charge, disbarment if an attorney and lifetime ban from elective or appointive office in the State of Georgia.

Second offense: won’t be one, because you’ll already be out of office.

Now get to work!

How is this Constitutional

January 14th, 2013
11:30 am

td; how can even you defend this? Do these clowns not realize that Ga. is already considered home to the most corrupt govt. in the state? Why do they fight so hard to keep what they are doing from coming to the “light of day”? The answer is obvious.

Bob Loblaw

January 14th, 2013
11:37 am

Why does a private citizen have a right to file a complaint in a legislative body? They don’t. You elect them and you got 2 years to evaluate whether or not you want them again. You don’t like them that badly? You can recall them. But you can’t just waltz into a governing body and start filing complaints where you’re guaranteed due process, people.

This story omits the fact that a private citizen can file a complaint against an elected official with the Campaign Finance Commission. If the complaint is valid, the Ethics committees of either the House or Senate gets the complaint and takes it from there.

More than meets the eye to the headline. At least there’s no more confusion with the Senate…they now have an Ethics rule on day 1. I’d have to say that the LG has restored some order to the Chamber and scored a big win by taking ethics off the Senate’s plate unless the House does something. The House should do nothing! Then we’ll have a real mess!

what of it?

January 14th, 2013
11:40 am

Politicians, our only native criminal class

mike

January 14th, 2013
11:45 am

Heck I don’t see what the problem is. The majority of Georgians elected unethical people into office. Were they suppose to get ethics all of a sudden after getting into office?

Porkchopicus of Borg

January 14th, 2013
11:45 am

Bob Loblaw — “Why does a private citizen have a right to file a complaint in a legislative body? They don’t.”

Doggone that pesky First Amendment and its “right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Bob Loblaw

January 14th, 2013
11:50 am

You can petition your government for the redress of grievances in the Judiciary.

The Senate is Constitutionally mandated to determine the qualifications of its membership. There are outlets to express “grievances” against Senators, too. You can file complaints with the GGT&CFF, recall them or wait until re-election and beat them then.

You don’t have a right to walk into a Senate Committee and file a complaint that is afforded due process.

oppo

January 14th, 2013
11:51 am

Loblaw must be code for lobbyist or senator trying to cover up a bad decision and outrageously unethical behavior.

[...] TweetYou can read the rules in it’s entirety here, but Jim Galloway has a pretty good run down of the proposed rules of the Georgia Senate.  A key note of interest concerning the $100 gift limit: The same rules that [...]

hiram

January 14th, 2013
11:55 am

They use the same logic as Rogers and Graves – if you wanted someone to represent your interest, you should have known better that to vote for me in the first place.

oppo

January 14th, 2013
11:58 am

Josh McKoon just sold out. These guys are a pathetic bad joke.

Porkchopicus of Borg

January 14th, 2013
12:01 pm

Bob Loblaw — “You can petition your government for the redress of grievances in the Judiciary.”

In other words, you can only file suit? Sorry, not congruent with the 1A.

“The Senate is Constitutionally mandated to determine the qualifications of its membership.”

That’s got nothing to do with filing an ethics complaint against one of them. Even if a member were found to be in violation, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she would be removed from office.

“There are outlets to express “grievances” against Senators, too. You can file complaints with the GGT&CFF, recall them or wait until re-election and beat them then.”

Once again, not congruent with the rights afforded under the 1A.

“You don’t have a right to walk into a Senate Committee and file a complaint that is afforded due process.”

And nobody argued that you *should* be able to do such a thing. Yet what you’re arguing is not what’s at issue.

I think that if this passes the General Assembly, the state’s eventually going to find itself defending its position before the US Supreme Court, and frankly, I think Georgia’s position would be both ludicrous and untenable.

Cherokee

January 14th, 2013
12:03 pm

I continue to wonder how these clowns can embarrass us any more – and every year they manage.

And td, as usual, what a silly statement. How can you defend this? But of course, they will keep getting re-elected because they have an R in front of their name.

BitterEXdemocrackkk

January 14th, 2013
12:05 pm

the citizens needing to complain will certainly find ways to publicize their complaints if not thru the legislature…stupidity on their part…duh.

James

January 14th, 2013
12:07 pm

I am not shocked that GA politicians are bring idiots. Blocking citizens from filing ethics violations? That just mean the legislators will just protect each other. Sealing complaints; don’t we have the Open Records Act for a reason? I see a lawsuit coming that can challenge all this!

jd

January 14th, 2013
12:11 pm

The Georgia General Assembly exempted themselves from the Open Records Act….

Bobby

January 14th, 2013
12:12 pm

So much for “of the people, by the people and for the people” , insofar as Georgia Republicans are concerned.

hiram

January 14th, 2013
12:14 pm

What would one expect in a state where Honey Boo Boo child and td represent the norm outside of the urban areas? Look for them to reinstate the County Unit System for the next governor’s race, where Taliaferro County, with a population of 1700 would count for as much as 1/3 of Fulton County, with a population of a million plus.

Georgia, The "New Mississippi"

January 14th, 2013
12:17 pm

Georgia continues to be the laughingstock of educated humanity……………vote to make it illegal for people to complain about elected officials un-ethical behavior. These same ‘ lawmakers” win re-election by a landslide. ……..Republican Repukes truly run the Red (neck) State of Georgia.

td

January 14th, 2013
12:19 pm

How is this Constitutional

January 14th, 2013
11:30 am

td; how can even you defend this? Do these clowns not realize that Ga. is already considered home to the most corrupt govt. in the state? Why do they fight so hard to keep what they are doing from coming to the “light of day”? The answer is obvious.

I am not defending the policy because I think all this gift ban stuff is crap to begin with. The only rule should be full disclosure on an internet site. It is then up to the voter to determine if it was appropriate for their elected official to take the gifts or not.

When you establish rules like these the only thing that happens is people complain that rules are not harsh enough and the politicians go underground. Nothing more.

Bobby

January 14th, 2013
12:19 pm

td has supported corruption in the State Legislature as long as I’ve known him posting on here.

Ralph

January 14th, 2013
12:20 pm

More foolish antics from the GOP controlled Senate. Georgia used be a good state, but the Republicans have ruined it over the past 12 years or so.

Ethics Amateur

January 14th, 2013
12:21 pm

@Bob Loblaw: You state that a citizen is allowed to file a complaint to the Campaign Finance Commission. While that is true, it is ONLY if some elected official is in specific violation of an OCGA law that appears in the section of the Code that the Campaign Finance Commission oversees.

NOTHING that Senator Don Balfour did in regards to falsifying expense reimbursement receipts is covered under the section of the law that the CFC oversees.

If you know of a specific OCGA law that does, please cite it for us here. Because, had the two citizens not made a stink of Balfour’s cheating on expense reimbursement, the state senate would have NEVER done anything about it because that political body is just a band of organized thieves who will seek to protect their own when given the power to do so (as today’s new rules provide).

Debbie

January 14th, 2013
12:21 pm

td wrote

“January 14th, 2013
11:06 am
I hear all this complaining but I have yet to see any of the complainers run for office on ethics rules.”

Ralston crony Doug McKillip opposed caps on lobbyist gifts and he lost to Regina Quick who supports limits on lobbyist gifts.

Ralston crony Rep. Sean Jerguson opposed caps on lobbyist gifts. Jerguson( Cherokee County) lost the election for State Senate District 21 to Brandon Beach (Fulton County). Beach was a strong supporter of limits on lobbyist gifts. Beach won even though almost 65 % of the district was Cherokee county.

Debbie

January 14th, 2013
12:24 pm

@td, There is a limit on campaign contributions so why shouldn’t there be a limit on lobbyist gifts?

I was told by several House members that the Democrats got all the perks when they were in charge, now it it the Republican’s turn.

Guess td thinks that as well.

Carol

January 14th, 2013
12:26 pm

When will I learn. I was trying to give themt he benefit of the doubt that they would at least act like they were going to do the right thing this year. This proves that once again the legislators are looking out for themselves, not the people who elected them. This is unbelievable.

Debbie

January 14th, 2013
12:30 pm

Imagine this as a robo call in legislative elections in 2014:

“Under Georgia law, it is currently legal for a lobbyist to gift a legislator with a house or car. Rep. Mickey Mouse refused to take action to put a limit on lobbyist gifts. Challenger Minnie Mouse will work hard to limit lobbyist gifts. “

Crazy Like A Fox

January 14th, 2013
12:32 pm

If Beach votes for this “style” of ethics reform, his days will be numbered as a State Senator.

Timmy

January 14th, 2013
12:38 pm

Keep watching the falcons, everything is fine. Now go away.

td

January 14th, 2013
12:43 pm

When have bans ever worked? The states most restrictive are the same states with the most corruption charges (and that is what is found).

What I am advocating is total sunshine and the responsibility of the voter to determine if they are satisfied with their representatives. If we can not trust the voters on this issue then why even have elections?

hiram

January 14th, 2013
12:46 pm

At least, in the at large elections for the U.S. Senators, and Governor, the changing demographics will eliminate the Republicans. If they run again, look for Deal, Chambliss and Isackson to have another premonition from God, and change back to Democrats.
The tds’ and Honey Boo Boo Children will continue to elect clowns to the U.S. and State House, unless Georgia decides to educate its citizens at some point in the future.

Crazy Like A Fox

January 14th, 2013
12:48 pm

Tom Murphy would have been “proud” of this “style” of ethics reform.

honested

January 14th, 2013
12:48 pm

td,

Just how many corruption charges are emanating from NC now that they have strong gift caps and penalties in place?

But I do agree, I am wholly dissatisfied with the actions of the General Assembly since 2003. Unfortunately, low information types still get to vote for the dullards they know from church.

Carol

January 14th, 2013
12:54 pm

td
What I am advocating is total sunshine and the responsibility of the voter to determine if they are satisfied with their representatives. If we can not trust the voters on this issue then why even have elections?
+++++++

Are you serious? Most voters barely know what’s going on. The majority of these individuals keep getting re-elected because 1. They haven’t done anything to the level of a crime that would cause voters to boot them out. and 2. People don’t pay attention so they simply select the person with the (I) beside their name. 3. Rarely do people think in terms of what their individual assemblyperson has done regarding an issue. They simply blame it on The House or Senate as a whole. Most don’t pay attention to keep their persons accountable.

Now those are by no means ideal situations, but they are the reality of the majority of the voting population on a local and national level.

td

January 14th, 2013
1:00 pm

Carol

January 14th, 2013
12:54 pm

Then it is the responsibility of the press or the citizens to educate the voter. If not then they get exactly what they are asking for.

Bob Loblaw

January 14th, 2013
1:09 pm

@ Debbie:

Minnie Mouse sounds about like the caliber of candidates your groups seem to attract.