March 26, 2013 — 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.
April 11, 2012 — Dozens of Georgia lobbyists and political candidates may get relief from fines assessed for filing their financial disclosures late. Thousands more, the state Campaign Finance Commission decided today, will get no such reprieve.
Tying Up Loose Ends: The Georgia Secretary of State has no record of an allegedly “unexplained” purchase for $4,965 that was said to suggest financial mismanagement at the state ethics commission. Without documentation,
we may never know what that purchase was for, or whether it really happened. Here’s why …
Four years ago, a lobbyist and a state senator completed a casual real estate deal at an iconic Atlanta-area restaurant. No money appeared to change hands, suggesting a gift worth tens of thousands of dollars, and the senator did not disclose he had acquired a condo in the deal. Both parties now say the paperwork was incorrect. The circumstances illustrate the frequently close relationships between the lobbyists and the lobbied and underscore the importance of fully understanding the information conveyed in public records.
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.”
About 180 times last year, state disclosures show, a lobbyist gave House Speaker David Ralston something: A meal, a drink, a round of golf, a family trip to Europe. We know these lobbyists spent about $35,000 on the speaker in 2010. What we don’t know is much more significant: What did they want from him? Most lobbyists never answer that question, and Georgia doesn’t really make them.
House Speaker David Ralston, staff and family enjoyed a $17,000 working holiday last Thanksgiving. So much for the idea of a $100 gift cap. Or for transparency. Lobbyist Chris Brady, representing Commonwealth Research Associates LLC, picked up the tab for hotels and airfare. A few weeks later, Brady took Ralston and staff to a $403 dinner. Other than that, official disclosures tell us nothing.
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.
If House Speaker David Ralston’s ethics bill passes as written, Sen. Don Balfour and friends will have 562,000 reasons to thank him. Balfour, who’s said he won’t seek re-election, started 2010 with that many greenbacks in his campaign account. Georgia politicians such as Balfour would have been severely restricted in spending leftover campaign cash under a bill with broad bipartisan support. Now that proposal is all but dead, swept aside by Ralston’s substitute ethics bill.
Georgia’s ethics enforcers ask lobbyists to reveal who’s really paying whenever they wine and dine legislators. But the State Ethics Commission, acknowledging that the law does not require that information, has dropped charges against lobbyist Raymon White for failing to disclose it. The upshot? Unless the Legislature fixes the loophole, Georgia’s 1,600 lobbyists won’t have to reveal who’s really paying for a lawmaker’s fancy meal or skybox seats.