Ralston bill: Ban gifts, ID pre-session donors, empower ethics panel
By JIM WALLS
Jan. 29, 2013 — House Speaker David Ralston released two ethics proposals today that would ban most lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and, for the first time, require legislators to immediately disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions collected just before they convene each year.
One of Ralston’s bills would also restore rule-making authority to the state ethics commission, which lost that power in 2009 after adopting controversial guidelines for candidates’ use of donated air travel.
The second bill would allow candidates for city and county offices to file campaign disclosures only with local election officials, as they had until a 2010 law took effect. Since then, the ethics commission has been inundated with such filings, thousands of which were filed on paper rather than electronically and were therefore unavailable locally or on the state agency’s website.
“This will free up resources and enable the commission to better perform its mission. This is tantamount to a funding increase,” according to a sheet of talking points released with the bills.
Candidates who raise or spend $2,500 or less would not be required to disclose their donors at all under the bill.
A separate bill would give legislators five days to disclose donations received each year between Jan. 1 and the convening of the legislative session. Currently, those contributions are not disclosed until April (or, in odd-numbered years, July), when lawmakers have usually adjourned for the year.
Already this session, the state Senate has prohibited gifts from lobbyists valued at more than $100 to members of that chamber. Ralston’s bill would go a step further, banning such gifts altogether. Both measures, though, exempt travel and lodging expenses associated with lawmakers’ attendance at meetings or conferences that are directly related to their official duties.