Gift Cap? Forget That, How ’bout A Gift Ban?

August 10, 2012 9:18 am

by Buzz Brockway · 42 comments

Jim Galloway dropped off this little nugget as he was heading out of town.

Last week, 87 percent of GOP voters in the July 31 primary endorsed the cap, which Ralston has called a “gimmick.” To give the speaker his due, it is indeed a low bar. A lobbyist would be able to spend $100 on a lawmaker’s breakfast, and still be allowed to buy him a $100 lunch.

We’ve gotten reliable information – and not from a single source — that House Republican leaders are considering legislation next January that would ban all lobbyist spending on lawmakers altogether. Nothing. Zip. Nada. And that Ralston is among those who have expressed interest in this path.

Discuss.

Charlie August 10, 2012 at 9:24 am

A boatload of Senators – including Don “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I keep getting reelected” Balfour – jumped on the Gift Cap Pledge as soon as Ralston indicated he was opposed. I anxiously await the maneuvering out of both bodies now, especially if this is the position the House will take.

polpol August 10, 2012 at 9:26 am

SC does this with a major exception that the client (lobbyist principal) can spend and expenditures by committee (Committee Dinners) are legal. Don’t recall what the limits for reporting are, but campaign contributions are allowed during their session. Hasn’t seemed to slow them down one bit.

Blake August 10, 2012 at 9:35 am

God, I hope it’s true–and even more, I hope there is follow-through and it actually happens.

And then more than that, I hope the Commission Formerly Known as Ethics actually gets funded from a source not susceptible to interruption/interference by the legislature, and gets to actually enforce and watchdog.

Jeez, this is way too much hope for a Friday morning.

greencracker August 10, 2012 at 9:48 am

This passes, then the number of registered lobbyists drops.

CobbGOPer August 10, 2012 at 11:38 am

Exactly. These discussions are useless unless penalties for violations are enforceable and stiff enough to encourage compliance. If the worst they can receive is a fine – and usually a pretty low fine at that – then they will flout this by simply not registering as a lobbyist and not appearing publicly with politicians. If they’re afraid the GBI might be building a case that could land them in jail, they’ll act differently. But they could care less at the moment since the worst they can get is a few hundred dollars in fines and a sternly worded letter.

xdog August 10, 2012 at 9:50 am

If $100 is a “gimmick”, Ralston could try $17,000.

Calypso August 10, 2012 at 10:07 am

+1

Justin Tomczak August 10, 2012 at 10:16 am

How about instead of haggling over unlimited v. $100 v. $0, the Legislature put in place a “fee” for all lobbyist spending.

This fee would be a percentage of the expense and would go to the Commission Formerly Known as Ethics to ensure that they have the resources necessary to do their job.

For argument’s sake, a 25% fee would mean for that $100 dinner, $25 would have to be sent over to the Commission. Thus the more than was spent lobbying, the more resources the Commission would have to ensure things were being done the right way.

Toxic Avenger August 10, 2012 at 10:30 am

I…actually like this idea.

IndyInjun August 10, 2012 at 11:47 am

I do, too!

CobbGOPer August 10, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Nah, the legislators will just pilfer it after a couple of years and send most of the revenue raised to the general fund. Like they do with so many other state fees.

Bob Loblaw August 10, 2012 at 10:44 am

Justin, is that a fee or a tax? Also, without a Constitutional Amendment, the State can’t raise taxes for a specific purpose. Want to manage that campaign?

Justin Tomczak August 10, 2012 at 10:51 am

Then I guess we’ll call it a fee.

Or we can call it a penalty not a tax, but when it’s found unconstitutional unless it’s actually a tax, we will call it a tax just like Obamacare.

:)

Rick Day August 10, 2012 at 11:05 am

a Free Speech Fee?

Seriously?

Justin Tomczak August 10, 2012 at 11:16 am

…so I take it you’re not in support of any ban/cap?

Calypso August 10, 2012 at 10:51 am

Nothing more than a ploy to set up the two sides of the legislature against each others proposal so that nothing gets enacted. They all will be able to puff out their chest and say how angelic they are for trying to get their respective gift ban in place, but, goshdarn it, those other guys just wouldn’t go along with it.

Move along, move along. Nothing to see here, just a little well-orchestrated game by our fiends under the gold dumb.

Bob Loblaw August 10, 2012 at 11:00 am

@ Justin:

So let’s just call a duck a dog, break the law and hope for the best? You’re better than that.

Justin Tomczak August 10, 2012 at 11:13 am

Sarcasm goes right over some people’s heads. :)

Bob Loblaw August 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm

The idea has merit. One could pay a surcharge. Courts do it to criminals. One pleads guilty to something with a $500 fine often sees a $500 “add-on” that the G.A. passed. You need better legal counsel with less doubletalk! You need Bob Loblaw!

Happy Face August 10, 2012 at 11:05 am

Why one earth can’t members of the legislature pay for their own gosh darn dinner like the rest of us? If it is so important for them to eat for free, how about we let lobbyists take them out to eat as much as they want… but only to the local soup kitchen. The lobbyist can make a $10 donation per person eating to the soup kitchen and this oh so important “public business” can take place in with the homeless. If it really is just that important that our public servants break bread with special interests then it shouldn’t matter if it is at the Union Mission instead of Bones, right?

Rick Day August 10, 2012 at 11:07 am

Dude get real. Then they would have to actually talk to the blackfolk!

Horrors!

Rick Day August 10, 2012 at 11:10 am

$500, Buzz.

I’ll donate $500 to the cause of your choice if this passes in a meaningful way.

If you’ll donate $5 to mine if it does not.

In the meantime, I’ve got a spiffy new PAC to distribute funds with. Would you accept a political donation in the name of criminal justice reform?

Buzz Brockway August 10, 2012 at 11:32 am

Is this a bet or a bribe? ;-)

Calypso August 10, 2012 at 11:41 am

If he reports it, it is not a bribe. Therefore, I suggest Rick offer to give you a properly reported Porsche as a way of thanking you for listening to him. Proper reporting is all that needs to be done, right?

Buzz Brockway August 10, 2012 at 11:49 am

No, I’ve consistently maintained all we need to do is pass a $100 gift cap. Don’t you read any of my posts?

Calypso August 10, 2012 at 11:59 am

I read all of them, and you’ve yet to answer my supposition that someone could give you a car, and as long as it was properly reported, it couldn’t be considered a bribe other than your response that we needn’t be worried about a lobbyist giving someone a car.

Calypso August 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Clarification–I’m refering to the way the system is currently set-up, not any plans you have for future restrictions.

Buzz Brockway August 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I responded to you here.

Bribery is defined in OCGA 16-10-2. The dollar amount isn’t as important as the actions and intent. One can be bribed with a visit to a Falcons game as well as a car if quid pro quo was involved.

Calypso August 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm

From your response in the link: “Given negative reaction to Speaker Ralston’s trip I doubt any lobbyist would attempt to buy a Legislator a car.”

What if he was given a car worth $17,000 instead of a trip worth $17,000? Providing it was properly reported, of course.

Who decides when a gift becomes bribe? What distinguishes one from the other?

I’ll stop now because I’m starting to sound like a redundant, non-comprehending ass.

Bob Loblaw August 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Now you’re getting somewhere!

Thank you, Buzz, for enlightening folks on criminal intent.

CobbGOPer August 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm

“What distinguishes one from the other?”

I would guess that’s the ‘quid pro quo’ part Buzz mentioned, no? ‘Gifts’ do not usually entail some kind of reciprocal act on the part of the recipient, whereas a bribe does by definition.

Rick Day August 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I am NOT buying you a damn car LOL.

Is it considered a donation if it is in cash? We like cash :)

Buzz Brockway August 10, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Bribery is defined in OCGA 16-10-2. The dollar amount isn’t as important as the actions and intent. One can be bribed with a visit to a Falcons game as well as a car if quid pro quo was involved.

Rick Day August 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I suggest Rick offer to give you a properly reported Porsche

!

SourGwinnett August 10, 2012 at 11:41 am

Why is it that every single company I’ve worked for has ‘ethical’ requirements forbidding me from accepting gifts of any kind, including lunches, yet Congress can have entire vacations paid for by lobbyists without that being an ethical violation? I’ll take the one standard option, Thank you. If it’s not good enough for everyone, then it’s not good for Senators.

benevolus August 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Not sure where you’ve worked, but this kind of thing goes on in business all the time. Heck, Atlanta was practically built on businessmen having meetings in strip clubs.

Lawton Sack (Go Jackets!) August 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm

People are either ethical or they are not. There will be loopholes, issues, etc. with every single ethics bill that is introduced. Why? Because human beings are involved in the process. You can secure your house with all kinds of security measures, but a determined thief is going to try to find a way in if he perceives that the reward is worth the risk. An attempt can be made to make the risk higher than the reward, but trying to pinpoint a single punishment/threshold that covers every possible situation is extremely difficult. The tendency is just to make the punishment more harsh, but when you do that, you often end up with some people being punished harshly for honest mistakes.

All I know is that there are a lot of good, honest people that are looking at this issue. Some are on different sides of the fence. They each truly want to do what is right, though. Some have been ridiculed for thinking out loud, others for wanting to take more time to look at it.

I applaud Buzz for sticking his chin out and speaking with people on Peach Pundit. I spoke with a Representative yesterday who spoke highly of the ethical way that Buzz operates in both his personal and public life. We don’t need to forget that there are good, decent, hard-working people in Atlanta that are trying to do things the right way.

Bob Loblaw August 10, 2012 at 12:54 pm

+1

JRM2016 August 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Lawton,

To carry forward with your analogy, it is true that you can have security measures for a house, but that someone will break in anyway. However we have a law against burglary because as a society we do not condone theft. Our current ethics law condones unlimited giving. I think regardless of your position on a ban, we can all agree that a limit should be put in place. Does anyone really believe that we should allow a legislator to receive $10,000 in gifts, $100,000, $1,000,000? I for one believe that as elected officials we need to raise a standard of what is acceptable conduct.

I want to underline again here as I have elsewhere, a gift limit should be a part of comprehensive ethics reform. We would be doing a tremendous disservice to the people of Georgia to simply pass a gift limit and declare victory. We need to restore the independence of what was formerly the State Ethics Commission. That means restoring rule making authority and providing an independent funding source. State government should be subject to the same sunshine laws we require local government to comply with, including the Open Records and Open Meetings Act. We should enhance our revolving door law. For those who champion transparency, we need more robust campaign finance reporting requirements for political action committees and other campaign vehicles.

I think it is safe to say that confidence in elected officials is at an all time low. It would be a good start in rebuilding that broken trust to raise a standard that says we will be a leader in ethics in government, rather than continuing with the status quo, an ethics system that trails far behind states like Illinois and Louisiana.

Lawton Sack (Go Jackets!) August 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Senator,

You are 100% right that a gift ban should not and cannot be an endgame for ethics, but simply just a part of a more comprehensive package of ethics and transparency. There are a lot of good and reasonable ideas floating out there among people that have a desire for our government to become more ethical and more transparent. Out of these ideas will eventually come some type of consensus of what should be included in legislation. There are many that have planted their feet firmly without any type of flexibility, which will make the process more difficult than it should be.

We should not be naive, though, and think that it will magically make things right. There are simply unethical people among us. Some lobbyists will under report their spending, some legislators will not fully report, some will have improper relationships, etc. As you have stated, that certainly does not mean that you ignore everything and just hope the problems go away. There have to be strong laws, but there also should be a high level of accountability.

I also agree that the Ethics Commission, or whatever they are called this week, should have the power to back up their decisions. We have to be extremely careful, though, that they do not misuse their responsibility.

It would be nice to also recognize the good behavior in some fashion. Too often we pick up on the bad news and miss the good that is going on. Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking with a GA Representative that is asking for others to help keep him accountable as he serves Georgia and his district. It is refreshing that we have men and women in the Atlanta that are like that.

Thank you for your time, response, and your willingness to lead in ethics reform.

caroline August 10, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Honestly why don’t we just reopen the Gold Club under the Gold Dome. At least people could SEE what they’re paying for.

Happy Face August 10, 2012 at 4:11 pm

It’s a fun game when the legislature is in town to spot them out with their lobbyist friends. The Pink Pony is a very popular destination. You can sometimes tell who’s in the legislature because they wear really bad and obvious wigs that attract the attention they’re trying not to get… well, except from the dancers. Also Tin Lizzy’s and Six Feet Under on Memorial are a couple of the more popular after hours drinking spots. So popular that you can often find bars down that way open way past the city’s stated closing time. But who from the city or the bar is going to tell these guys they have to leave due to a pesky law? They’re having fun.

I dated a part time lobbyist a few years ago. It was amazing how many calls and texts she got while the legislature was in session by members wanting her to come out drinking with them. She didn’t even have to foot the bill (though she usually did). Just hang out, be pretty, and be nice company. I wasn’t all that surprised that the horny old goats made use of their positions to hang out with pretty twentysomethings but was surprised by how careless they were about it and also how tech savy they were. A lot of the “aw shucks, I’m just a simple shop owner from a small town” guys sure know how to use all the communication technology at their disposal to get what they want. Covering their tracks… not so much but I guess it really didn’t matter since no really cares that much anyway.

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