Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New ethics bills could make lawmakers' extramarital affairs with lobbyists even more difficult

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 3:32 PM

A diverse coalition of ethics advocates are doing cartwheels over new legislation (PDF) expected to be soon introduced by state Rep. Tommy Smith, R-Alma, that would clamp down on lobbyist gifts, tighten up disclosure requirements, and increase the amount of time a former public official must wait before registering as a lobbyist. According to the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform, which includes Common Cause of Georgia, the Georgia Tea Party, Georgia Watch, and the League of Women Voters, the bill would:

* Create a $100 cap on lobbyist expenditures for legislators (there is currently no limit), with an exception of a $500 limit for travel and related expenses associated with speaking engagements and conferences, and an exception allowed for expenses associated with events for which all members of the General Assembly are invited.
* Restore the name of the State Ethics Commission and the agency’s rule-making authority and prevent lobbyists or their family members from serving on the Commission.
* Create PAC contribution and expense disclosure requirements, limit contributions to PACs to $1,000, and limit PAC-to-PAC and campaign to campaign transfers to $10,000 per election cycle. There are currently no limits on contributions to PACs, no aggregate limits on PAC to PAC and campaign to campaign transfers and no disclosure requirements for PACs.
* Expand lobbyist expenditure reporting requirements by including expenditures for family members of public employees.
* Reduce the lobbyist registration fee to make it more affordable for non-profit organizations, small businesses and single client lobbyists while recouping costs through an increase in the fee for lobbyists with multiple clients.
* Prevent public officials or members of their family from holding government contracts.
* Increase from one year to two years the “revolving-door” timeframe for legislators who become lobbyists.
* Prevent public officials from working as lobbyists at the federal level or in other states.

As Jim Galloway's reported, the proposal already has strong support among some tea party groups and pro-life organizations. In other words, the only groups some lawmakers' will listen to.

Debate amongst yourselves whether any of the proposals are too stringent. I'm personally thrilled to see that lawmakers might revisit whether the state ethics commission really needs to be called the "Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission." State lawmakers changed the name to that tongue twister — which no one, aside from the commission's receptionist, even bothers to utter — in 2010.

In addition, state Sen. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna, has proposed legislation making the ethics commission an independent agency outside of the control of the Legislature and governor. Commission members would be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice and the Chief Judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals. It'd be funded with a set percentage of the state's budget. Oh, and it'd also change the name to the Georgia Ethics Commission. That's at least make that happen, people.

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