Abramoff in Florida: Gift Caps And Bans Don’t Work.

I hesitate to take the word of a convicted felon but since Jack Abramoff’s name was brought up in the comments over the weekend to bolster the idea of a complete ban of lobbyist gifts let’s discuss what he said in Florida last week:

Money is the root of evil in politics, said the man who spent 43 months in federal prison for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe and tax evasion. One day after the nonpartisan Integrity Florida group released a report saying the state led the nation in federal corruption convictions from 2000 to 2010 (780 federal convictions in the past decade – Buzz), Abramoff told the Capital Tiger Bay Club it makes no sense to limit lobbyists’ wining and dining of lawmakers.

“If the lobbyist can still hand over bunches of $500 checks, does it really matter that he’s not buying the hamburger?” Abramoff said in response to a question about Florida’s law. The gift ban forbids lobbyists to host a party or buy lunches for elected officials — but they can go Dutch, and lobbyists can bring unlimited batches of $500 campaign contributions from all of their clients.

Apparently this didn’t set will with some in the audience. Ambramoff went on to say…

“Any conveyance of a financial interest, whatever it is, by someone who is trying to get something out of the government, to a public servant who is going to give it to them, what is that? What should we call that? Bribery, right,”

The key phrase there is “who is going to give it to them.” If someone donates to my campaign it shouldn’t be to insure my vote. That’s illegal.

So if “money is the root of all evil” in politics what then? Public financing of elections? That’s a colossally bad idea. Let’s disclose everything and enforce existing Georgia law. Vote out the bad guys and replace them with good ones.

47 comments

  1. bgsmallz says:

    Buzz-

    I’m not able to dig into this issue as much as I’d like to…so please excuse the ignorance.

    However, I’m finding in a local issue that I’m interested in, the biggest issue isn’t the actual disclosure, but rather, the speed of the disclosure. It seems stupid that in an internet age, you can’t have a better, closer to real time view of the money coming into a campaign. For example, and this isn’t any sort of indictment of you….just an example, you had 7 campaign donations on 1/6/2012 that didn’t need to be reported until 3/31/12 and probably didn’t get posted by the state until several weeks after that. That just seems really, really slow considering the speed of information these days.

    I just figure that it would be easier if there were single clearing house for accepting campaign donations. For example, rather than having someone from your campaign set up a separate banking account, collect the funds, put it into a report, submit it, and then have that report published once a quarter…why can’t the donation just be made directly through a entity that has contracted with the state (say a bank) that would run and update all campaign contributions? The bank would have the obligation as part of its contract with the state to maintain and update an online database of contributions for all state and local issues. We might even be able to save money by privatizing part of the duties provided currently by Campaign Finance commission.

    Anyway, just a thought off the wall while I’m having a snack…but I think the key isn’t necessarily caps or what not…its quicker and easier information.

    • That’s worth looking at.

      Currently we’re required to file a campaign disclosure report quarterly and then if we receive a donation of $1000 or more in the days leading up to the election we must report that as well.

      The technology is certainly there, it’s just getting candidates to embrace it.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Drop a rigid quarterly interval, if that is the current requirement, and establish periods ending when the knowledge would best serve the public. For instance, it would be logical to have a reporting period end mid-January. A reporting period ending then would capture any surge in contribution arriving ahead of a convening session, with the information publicly available early in the session. Have other periods end as close to primary and election dates as possible for the reports to be publicly available one to two weeks ahead of elections. (Periods ending at those times in off years won’t hurt, plus those periods may be useful with respect to special elections.)

    • Scott65 says:

      Thats a really great idea…real time campaign donation/lobbying info. It would never see the light of day because then it would be too easy to see who is buying who. It wouldn’t be that expensive to do either. The software to do it is already around or could easily be modified for this purpose

  2. CobbGOPer says:

    “Vote out the bad guys and replace them with good ones.”

    And every uncontested incumbent in the state just said “yeah right.”

    Fine. If we’re not going to get you people on board for gift caps, then screw it. We’re going to term limit you jokers.

    ATTENTION DEBBIE DOOLY: Please make TERM LIMITS your new focus of effort. It’s obvious that none of these people besides Josh McKoon actually wants to effect any change. Therefore, let’s institute term limits. If they’re good enough for the executive branch, they’re good enough for the General Assembly. Six terms then get ’em the f— outta there.

    • 1) See my post on Saturday re: gift caps
      2) You can vote out your State official every two years. If nobody runs why don’t you run?
      3) Term limits aren’t working well in California of Florida (2 recent examples). People complain that the bureaucrats and lobbyists write the bills.
      4) Take a look at the average length of stay in the Legislature these days. Folks like Calvin Smyre and Bob Hanner, who served for 30+ yrs, are the exception. I bet the number of people who have served longer than the 12 yrs you want to limit us to is small.

      • CobbGOPer says:

        1) OK I’ll do that.
        2) If I had the time and financial resources to do so, I would have run by now. I do not posess either. Does that mean I don’t have a right to criticize unchallenged legislators?
        3) Buzz, the bureaucrats and lobbyists write the bills in Georgia already, for the most part. At least all the bills that pertain to their interests. They leave the human trafficking and other stuff they don’t care about to be written by you guys.
        4) I don’t know. But then you admit you don’t know either, but your guess is it’s a small group. I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve crunched the numbers on each legislator’s length of service. However, I would note that if it is indeed small, then it is only because of the immense turnover we’ve seen since 2002, which has brought many new legislators from the GOP into a formerly Democrat-dominated General Assembly. The real question is how many of these legislators that are there now (who have been elected since 2002) will still be there in say 2020? I can tell you how many of them would LIKE to be there in 2020 and beyond: all of them.

      • taylor says:

        Do legislators actually write the bills in Georgia?

        And who teaches a new legislator the proper number of “whereas” that should precede the primary content of a piece of legislation?

        • CobbGOPer says:

          Rarely, unless said legislator is a lawyer. Otherwise, most legislators either use a lot of template language (given to them by a lobbyist or interested activist/organization), or they visit the in-house lawyers at the Gold Dome and say “here’s what I’d like to do.” The law-weasels then craft up a bill to the legislator’s specs and (hopefully) point out any potential issues with the legislation.

          • Actually what I do is drive to Atlanta and sit in my office until the Lobbyist the Speaker sends over arrives with my instructions for the day. Then I open the envelope and do what I’m told. If no instructions arrive from the Speaker I look for another lobbyist and ask them what to do. If they don’t have anything for me to do that day I call ALEC and ask them what to do. If they’ve run out of stuff for me to do I call the Koch Brothers.

            I try not to think to much because that hurts my head.

      • troutbum70 says:

        I seriously doubt that lobbyists are a protected class that would fall under the first amendment. It’s a line of work just like anything else. How many buggy whip makers do you see these days? If our elected officials seriously want to clean up politics enforce the laws, beef up the Ethics Commission and wipe out any expenditures spent on our elected officials.

        And last time I checked Montana’s legislature meets just once every two years. Seems to be working for them.

        • Five Forks says:

          umm…..new model out. http://www.buggy-whips.com/

          Georgia has 10 million people and 165 people per square mile. Montana has less than a million people and 6 people per square mile. The challenges and issues are different – don’t think their model is an exact fit for Georgia.

        • benevolus says:

          You want to ban a group of people with like-minded interests from hiring someone to speak for them?
          Not sure how that law would be worded.

  3. ryanhawk says:

    Who are the “bad guys”? I’ll be willing to bet that no member of the general assembly will identify one of their own partisan colleagues as a “bad guy”. And you certainly wouldn’t donate to someone challenging a “bad guy”.

    One of the biggest problems citizens face is that incumbents protect each other. Your House Speaker has a “rule” that requires you to donate to protect Republican incumbents. If you look at donations to Republican incumbents who face a primary challenger, donations from house/senate colleagues campaign accounts are as important as donations from lobbyists. And I’ve yet to see a “bad guy” in need of financial campaign assistance that isn’t supported by other uncontested incumbents. That’s something you guys could fix if you really wanted to, but I won’t hold my breath….

  4. SallyForth says:

    What’s the old ad about “Ask the guy who owns one”? It’s pretty sad that it takes a lobbyist-convicted felon to point out the obvious wide-open avenues for graft and corruption in the lobbying industry. Like you say, ryan, the law makers could change this IF they wanted to. But where’s the incentive in our current incumbent protection system, huh?

  5. Bob Loblaw says:

    @bgsmallz:

    Did you really just say that donors to the campaign ought to write a check to the State of Georgia, who contracts with a bank? Is this Russia?

    @CobbGOPer:

    Term limits are not the answer unless you really want staff, the Executive Branch and lobbyists to decide everything. One year, the Member is a Freshman, angling for a chairmanship the next session and lining up with who they hope is elected Speaker in 4 years. The second year, they are a committee chair, usually, chocked full of never-before-seen subject matter. But that’s ok, the Member doesn’t want that committee next Session, they want, say Health or Insurance because its more prestigious and you can raise money easier. So, they get Health, and now they’re in charge of all things health, including Medicaid, which in GA is about $4B of policy. They know little about Medicaid, so enter the staff, lobbyists and the Governor to tell them what to write. Its okay that they don’t know much about health care. They’re angling to be Rules Chairman or maybe Majority Leader or Whip next year. Then, they run for leadership and win, ditching Health to the next up. Then, after the session or two in leadership, they are term-limited.

    I’ve watched it work. It does not work. Tell Debbie Dooley to keep on workin’ for term limits. That’ll make about 262 things on the TEA Party’s priority list, further diluting any future success.

    • bgsmallz says:

      @Bob

      In Soviet Russia, you don’t donate to politician…..politician donate you.

      I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the private sector often has better solutions than the public sector and tends to be ahead of the curve on providing real-time information (because the market demands it). My point isn’t that the state should hold all of the funds…my point is that if campaign funds have to be reported to the state and to the people of the state, wouldn’t it be easier to disseminate that information if one entity was doing the reporting/collecting rather than thousands?

      For arguments sake, I get your point. But let’s say that instead of contracting with a bank, the state contracts with a clearinghouse that might not even be brick and mortar…maybe it’s just an online database. BUT local banks where politicians open their campaign funds accounts (because it’s convenient…not because they want support from the local bank in their election ;)) would be required to contract with the clearinghouse so that real-time reporting could be made from the thousands of separate accounts across the state rather than the candidate filling out quarterly forms with the same information.

      Does that make more sense/is that more palatable?

    • CobbGOPer says:

      Bob, if you think the Executive Branch, staff and lobbyists don’t decide everything now (i.e. write most of the legislation and regulation), then you are more naive than you appear.

  6. Bob Loblaw says:

    @bgsmallz:

    I’m sorry, you lost me at “send your contribuiton to the government that contracts with a bank”.

    • bgsmallz says:

      I assume you mean that you lost me….because you must have been on a different site reading a different comment because I’m pretty sure I never wrote those words.

      Anyway, you lost me when you said that your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries…oh wait, you didn’t say that at all and I just get my kicks from pretending to read and comprehend a statement and then mis-quoting that statement as a “counter argument” rather than actually having the skill of reading comprehension?

      Ugh…

      Pearls meet swine. Sorry I commented on this.

      • Charlie says:

        I’m sorry, but that’s fairly close to this, without any edlerberries:

        “why can’t the donation just be made directly through a entity that has contracted with the state (say a bank) that would run and update all campaign contributions? ”

        It’s where you lost me as well. I don’t think there needs to be or ever will be a central place to which campaign contributions are made, then transferred to the candidate of choice.

        There’s something quite ominous about having to turn money over to a system controlled by incumbents you are trying to vote out of office. If you don’t think so, check into Obama’s website listing personal details of large Romney donors.

        Now imagine you giving your money over to the Obama administration and after they take all the required information from you like your employer, where you live, and your banking info, then they’ll just happily give that money over to their adversaries and keep all your info for safekeeping.

        If you wouldn’t do it at the national level, why would you want to do that at the state level? or any level?

        • bgsmallz says:

          I must not be as clever as I think I am…

          The intent isn’t for the money to ever be controlled by the state or delivered to the state. The candidate and his bank would still privately own and control all funds.

          All I’m saying is that the reporting of the contribution would be contracted out by the state so that when Buzz gets a contribution on January 7, deposits it in his bank or another that is contracted with the state to report the funds, it would be reported to the state and the public in real time. Instead of waiting four months to see who is contributing, you would get the info right away. And because the banks would contract with the state to meet the reporting requirements, you wouldn’t add some huge hardship to the candidate to fill out daily paperwork and send it to the state.

          I hope this makes more sense.

          • Calypso says:

            I understood what you were saying all along. My panties aren’t in as big a wad over it as some of the others. Your idea has merit.

  7. ryanhawk says:

    Term limits would be better than what we have now. A better answer is to eliminate pensions for what is supposed to be part time public service. Do that and people will stop treating it like a career….

    • Charlie says:

      The value of what legislators receive as pensions is much less than what is commonly believed. Of all the reasons to stay in service, that’s the least of them.

      • ryanhawk says:

        So Georgia is an exception to the rule:

        http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304707604577421901195142304.html

        We could be, but I would bet that we play the same game other states play… I.e. years of service in the legislature count just as much as years of service for full time state employees. Which means long serving legislators go to work as a full time employee of the state for a few years at a high salary and then retire with a very large pension…

        • Charlie says:

          Again, I will defer to the experts, but I believe we also do not allow the legislator’s service to count for civil service years when considering state retirement.

          I believe the biggest perk legislators receive is the ability to buy state medical benefits for retirement after 10 years of service. (Again, let’s let one of the experts confirm). Remaining in past 10 years often represents more of an opportunity cost of other earnings for the legislator than remaining part of the body.

          • ryanhawk says:

            I would like to hear from the experts as well. And I really don’t understand why this information is so hard to find…. If our part time elected officials are truly underpaid, with few benefits, and a miserly retirement package you think they would make it easy to confirm those facts.

    • The pension for Legislators pays about $36 times years of service per month. So Bob Hanner who is retiring after 38 years will receive a pension of roughly $1368 per month. Oh and we pay into the fund.

      • ryanhawk says:

        Where does one look to find out what the rules are for pensions & benefits for legislators in Georgia? Is there a summary guide that newly elected state reps receive that answers basic questions….. I.e. what health benefits are available to you as a legislator? When does your pension vest? How are your years of service calculated? Are they transferable? etc….

  8. Bob Loblaw says:

    Sure. You’re right, CobbGOPer. The 236 Members of the General Assembly don’t write a darn thing. I wonder what their lawyers, policy aids and Legislative Counsel do all day? Yeah. I guess I’m naive. I wonder why they even have pens and paper in the Legislative branch? Have you ever watched a Judiciary Committee meeting? Never seen any writing in there, have you? Go back to paying attention to campaigns or talking about Obama or something.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      They write plenty of legislation, based on language they get from lobbyists and interested persons/organizations/companies. In other words, written by someone else. Not a hard concept to understand.

  9. Bob Loblaw says:

    Your concept is exceptionally difficult to understand and insults fine legislators who carefully craft language for a specific intent. Sure, a lot of legislation has suggested language from someone other than the bill’s sponsor. But to continue to posit that Members of the General Assembly are mere conduits of words, as you write that are “written by someone else” is, to quote you earlier, “naive”. So clueless in fact that you really ought to stop where you are and get back to a thread you have some base knowledge of. You sound like Tim Robbins character in Team America: ”
    Let me explain to you how this works: you see, the corporations finance Team America, and then Team America goes out… and the corporations sit there in their… in their corporation buildings, and… and, and see, they’re all corporation-y…

    • CobbGOPer says:

      Not that difficult to understand. You just don’t want to accept the premise.

      Besides, you sound like an employee of the General Assembly. How bout you get back to helping the fine legislators steal more money from me and let us adults talk.

  10. benevolus says:

    If a district likes their legislator- however corrupt they might be- they get to keep them. We all don’t get to vote on that. Perhaps the problem is really with the leadership. How to we keep those powerful positions clean?

  11. freeduck says:

    Once I get past my initial knee jerk reaction against publicly financed campaigns, I start to like the idea. It can be part of evaluating a candidate. Here’s (no idea of the cost of a state level campaign) $25k, see if you can win with it.

  12. debbie0040 says:

    Great column from Jay Bookman on the cap on lobbyist gifts. FYI, State Senator Josh McKoon is writing a repsonse to this and Rep. Brockway’s other article about gift caps. I am amazed at the response from Republican House members when proposing gift caps. We had a few House members basically tell us that the GOP is not as corrupt as the Democrats were and that the Democrats got all the perks for years and now it is the Republicans time to get the perks . Yes there were other witnesses.. Republicans would try to hide or excuse their bad behavior for years by pointing the finger at the liberal media and liberal groups by saying they just want to hurt the GOP. They can no longer do that now that conservative groups are pointing the finger at them and want ethics reform and a cap on lobbyist gifts and a resolution supporting a cap on lobbyist gifts was passed by a large margin at the GA GOP State Convention..

    Ga. legislators face starvation on $100-a-meal limit
    http://blogs.ajc.com/jay-bookman-blog/2012/06/13/ga-legislators-face-starvation-on-100-a-meal-limit/?cxntfid=blogs_jay_bookman_blog

    • Debbie,

      I said a gift cap as proposed wouldn’t change a thing. I made it clear what kind of ethics reform I support. Saying a cap won’t work isn’t the same as opposing ethics reform.

      • Calypso says:

        Buzz, I’ll be succinct as I want to catch you on here before you go about your days work. I asked earlier, and got no response, what and who defines the following line: 1) a dinner paid for by a lobbyist and properly reported 2) a new car paid for by a lobbyist and properly reported?

        What I’m trying tot ask is when does a gift, such as a dinner, become a bribe such as a car, even though both are properly reported?

        • OCGA 21-5-70 defines who is a lobbyist. Basically if you spend over $1000 and/or 10% of your time “promoting or opposing the passage of any ordinance or resolution by a public official” you’re a lobbyist and must register. There are some holes in that because who verifies all this? William Perry of Common Cause exploited this loophole for quite some time this year, even as he was at the Capitol regularly lobbying for ethics reform.

          Bribery is also defined in the code but I don’t have time right now to look it up.

          Given negative reaction to Speaker Ralston’s trip I doubt any lobbyist would attempt to buy a Legislator a car. However, under the proposed $100 per day cap lobbyists could theoretically give me a $99 gift every day of the year and thus I’d receive over $36,000 in gifts per year.

          And that’s my point: If you don’t like money in politics a gift cap doesn’t solve the problem. Let’s focus on stuff that will actually improve the ethical climate in this State beginning with adequate enforcement.

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