Ethics official rejects bid to narrow lobbying rules
By JIM WALLS
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 advisory opinion from the State Campaign Finance Commission.
Attorney Doug Chalmers, on behalf of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, had asked the commission to exempt people who might meet with public officials and express an opinion on a bill affecting their business interests. He argued that Georgia’s lobbyist registration law should be interpreted so it only applies to those whose lobbying duties are spelled out in their employment agreements.
That position would allow business men and women to buy meals, tickets or other gifts for public officials without disclosing them, as long as the gift fell below a $250 statutory limit.
In a draft response, posted Monday on the commission’s website, executive secretary Stacey Kalberman disputed Chalmers’ reading of the law. The statute, she wrote:
“states that all natural persons whether compensated as a contractor/consultant or ‘as an employee of another person’ are considered to be lobbyists if such persons ‘undertake to promote or oppose the passage of any legislation by the General Assembly, or any committee thereof.’ The statute makes no mention of a prerequisite that an individual be expressly compensated to engage in lobbying activities. If the General Assembly intended that such a prerequisite exist, the General Assembly could have included verbiage such as ‘specifically hired to perform lobbying activities.’ Yet, the legislature did not.”
The commission will decide whether to adopt that opinion at a future meeting. It recently started posting draft opinions online to solicit public comment.
The commission’s staff is still chewing over a second opinion requested by Chalmers to clarify whether sales people and others seeking government contracts must also register as lobbyists. A bill introduced Thursday by House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey would make that point.
Under Lindsey’s bill, lobbyist registration requirements:
“shall not apply to, and shall not prohibit the retention or employment of, a bona fide commission salesperson who acts in that capacity with respect to governmental procurements; and such a bona fide commission salesperson shall not be required to register as a lobbyist or otherwise be subject to the provisions of Article 4 of Chapter 5 of Title 21.”