Ethics reform for dummies, Part 1: Lobbyist gifts
By JIM WALLS
March 26, 2013 — A memo to Georgia legislators: As you struggle toward a compromise on ethics “reform,” here are five suggestions that would REALLY help to restore Georgians’ faith in government.
1) Limit lobbyist gifts to $25 per day, with a limit of four per year. That allows them to buy you a meal and a beer, but not the bottles of wine that really drive up the cost up of these $100 meals. And no gifts for spouses. Pay for those yourselves. Suck it up.
2) Make all legislators post all gifts from organizations with an interest in legislation, regardless of whether a lobbyist paid for them, on their official House or Senate website. If the American Legislative Exchange Council gives you a scholarship to attend a meeting, all you have to do is disclose it. Transparency doesn’t hurt.
3) Allow lobbyists to pay for your travel, lodging etc. only if you are required to attend because of your public office. Current language in your bills regarding expenses “related to official duties” is much too vague. How many times does the top leadership in the House (Mark Burkhalter, Jan Jones and Ed Lindsey so far) have to visit Southern California to see Georgia State University’s telescope? If those guys can’t take good notes to share with the rest of you, stop letting them go.
4) Ban lobbyists from giving you tickets to state universities’ athletic events. Instead, let them give you tickets to university lectures, academic competitions, art galleries and the like. If you wanna see the Dawgs on Saturday, pay for it yourself. With your own money. Just like everybody else.
5) Prohibit lobbyists from buying you any meal or other gift unless they disclose the specific bill, regulation, contract or policy issue to be discussed. At least 90 percent don’t do that now. And make them attach a client’s name each time, which they don’t have to do now, so they can’t just say the gift was on behalf of their lobbying firm. All other gifts would be illegal. You can still have lunch with your old legislative buddies now that they’re making the big bucks trying to talk you into something. You just gotta go Dutch.
I’ll get back to you tomorrow with some tips on improving campaign and personal financial disclosures.