Feb. 5, 2013 — How soon they forget. Georgia tried once before to charge hundreds of dollars for citizens to lobby state legislators, and a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional. In 1995, U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob held that a $200 fee for union members violated their rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.
Jan. 31, 2013 — Two years ago, legislative leaders squawked mightily at the notion that Georgians might have to register as lobbyists when they visit the Capitol. Today, some of those same leaders may embrace the very same position — and more — that they once deplored. A House subcommittee will consider Speaker David Ralston’s 2013 ethics package, which would make people pay $320 in lobbyist registration fees if they want to talk policy with legislators on behalf of any organization, whether it’s Georgia Power Co., the Tea Party or the Girl Scouts.
UPDATE: House members made it abundantly clear before today’s hearing that there’s no way that the final language of the ethics bill will abridge anyone’s First Amendment rights. No details yet, but it seems likely that the revised bill will try to exempt the average citizen who visits the Capitol only occasionally.
Attorney General Sam Olens – who’s taking on a larger role in investigations of public officials, political action committees and lobbyists — has raised more than a third of his campaign money from public officials, PACs, lobbyists and their clients. Donors include parties in high-profile inquiries into possible misuse of campaign funds or receipt of improper contributions.“There is always a potential for a conflict,” acknowledged Josh Belinfante, vice chairman of the campaign finance commission, “but I don’t think … that means a conflict exists.”
Georgia legislators last week took back an extra $30,000 budgeted to enforce ethics laws in 2012, leaving the State Campaign Finance Commission yet again to do more paper-shuffling and less investigating. “We really only have time to go after the most egregious of cases,” executive secretary Stacey Kalberman said.
March 7, 2011 — Beginning today, lobbying takes on a whole new meaning in Georgia. In essence, anyone who’s seeking to influence legislation now must file papers as a lobbyist if they’re being paid while doing so. That includes corporate executives or school teachers visiting the Capitol, or witnesses at legislative hearings. Patrick Millsaps, chairman of the State Campaign Finance Commission, warned: “I think we are coming dangerously close to putting up barriers to prevent people from petitioning their government.”
Business executives pushing a bill in the Legislature would still have to register as lobbyists even if they’re not expressly paid to do so, under a proposed opinion from the State Campaign Finance Commission. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce had asked the commission for an exemption — a position that would allow business persons to buy meals, tickets or other gifts for public officials without disclosing them.
Among the consequences of Georgia’s new ethics law: It will require more reporting by lobbyists and will probably thin out their herd, at least at the state level. It will relieve hundreds of the new governor’s appointees of the need to disclose even a smidgen about their personal finances. And, combined with budget problems, it will require the state ethics commission for the next several months to set aside one of its core missions, says its chairman, Patrick Millsaps.
Gov.-elect Nathan Deal put his name on three earmarks in his last year in Congress, funneling $2.1 million in federal money to three Georgia recipients. All three are represented by lobbyists Rob Leebern and/or Joe Tanner, who are now serving on his newly-appointed transition team. Those clients are among more than 130 represented by lobbyists serving on Deal’s transition and inaugural efforts. Health-care and financial-services interests dominate those client lists.
Gov. Sonny Perdue took office in 2003 vowing to push “comprehensive ethics reform” and reverse 140 years of entrenched, Democrat-controlled good-old-boy cronyism. Now, as the governor’s final year in office approaches, a legislative smackdown suggest tougher ethics enforcement is an idea whose time has yet to come: The State Ethics Commission was stripped of its rule-making authority, took a 30 percent budget cut and lost a bid for tougher penalties for candidates who file financial reports late, or not at all. Now, executive secretary Rick Thompson is stepping down. He says it’s time to go. “I just believe in my own life it’s time to move on,” he said.