First Amendment Shenanigans and Ethics Reform (Bumped.)

Bear with me, because what you’re about to see is supposed to funny, but also needs to be explained. In legislators’ mailboxes today was a flier purporting to be from the “Trust Your Georgia Legislators Committee.” (There is no such committee.) The flier, using a style that can only be described as “attempted tongue in cheek,” claims a membership of three long-time and respected lobbyists Trip Martin, Rick Thompson and Jet Toney, who “are working to stamp out the abuse of free speech rights.” Using a strike-through font and quotations from an AP article, the authors -oh hell, look for yourselves: 

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The problem here is that this technique is too subtle, and not funny. Professional lobbyists are, well, professionals. Ethics reformers are seeking to demonize them as corporate hired guns who manipulate rather than influence. These self-anointed “citizen advocates” engage in exactly the same behavior as the lobbyists they smear -only with ZERO accountability and ZERO transparency. And now, with total anonymity as well. What brave, noble Americans they are.*

There is nothing wrong with attempting to influence legislation. There is nothing wrong with being a lobbyist. There is nothing wrong with demanding ethics reform either, but there is something very wrong with trying to say that your particular type of legislative influence is sunshine and apple pie, while the legislative influence practiced by others (professionals with standards, transparency and accountability) is a cancer on the body politic. Badges? You “reformers” ought to try sackcloth and ashes.

*To the authors of the flier, THAT is how you do sarcasm.

 

34 comments

  1. DeKalb Wonkette says:

    The substitute bill comes out tomorrow. We can agree that Georgia needs ethics reform but doing it in the context of a 40 day session will do more harm than good.

    The House and Senate should convene a blue ribbon commission of unelected experts in ethics issues preferably from other states to identify recommendations outside of the political environment. The legislature might not pass them (think Special Council on Tax Reform) but at least we would have the benefit of dispassionate counsel.

    This is not going to end well.

  2. greencracker says:

    The GSU kids used to do things like this … also sometimes targeting remarkably obscure-to-the-public people. I have an anti-Dean Alford flyer. It makes me wonder who was advising them.

  3. polpol says:

    In all my years, and there are many, this is the most bizarre of the bizarre, Trip and Jet (don’t you love the names) should know better……seriously, a version of the Speaker’s Bill will work, but even an outright ban of everything or anything of value will be broken by those who do not play by the rules, just as the current, very easy to understand and follow rules are…..remember last year the head of Common Cause was lobbying for Ethics Reform and was not even registered!!!!! Yes, freedom of speech must be preserved and folks must be able to visit the capitol or the county courthouse or city hall and express their opinion to the entire body, but those who are professionals and are being paid to represent clients, must be clearly identified as well, and must adhere to clear rules on limits of expenditures, and reporting requirements. I agree that it is unreasonable to expect anyone who visits the Capitol to express an opinion on “lobby day ” to pay $X to register, but those who are volunteering and are there on an almost daily basis, are, in fact, lobbyists and should be required to register, regardless of payment of a fee or not. Many of us who are professionals volunteer our services and we pay a fee to register for those pro bono clients so that we can be legal……..the playing field should be level……

  4. Nonchalant says:

    This is effective.

    The blunt fact is that as far as I am concerned, forcing someone not earning a fee for “petitioning government” to pay a fee to petition government is an infringement on the right to petition government.

  5. John Walraven says:

    Mike nailed it: lobbying is a behavior. Either one behaves in a manner that crosses a threshold requiring them to register or they do not. Being paid or having expenses reimbursed for behaving in this manner is not, under current law, even relevant to the question of whether or not a person is required to register to lobby, nor should it be. Plenty of folks register to lobby that don’t get paid but are elected to leadership positions of various groups.

    • Napoleon says:

      I agree with John. If you are down there as part of your job or if you are pro-bono and spending the same amount of time advocating, you should be registered. Sorry to the citizens who can hang out the whole session and lobby on issues, but think they don’t have to register because they are not being paid.

      However, if I come down their because my industry or organization is having a “lobbying day” and that is the one day I’m down there, it shouldn’t matter who I speak to or how many elected officials. It is my right as a citizen to petition my government, whether on a social issue or an issue that will affect my livelihood. That shouldn’t require a $320 payment.

    • Nonchalant says:

      I am not up on the letter of either current or proposed laws, but neither do I care. I am more concerned the spirit of the thing be preserved, esp. as the abuses are at the hands of industry, correct? At least in this state. So…

      …as a hypothetical, let’s say Newtown had happened in Georgia, and the aggrieved families decided they or a single representative from them were going to hang out at the Capitol full time this year until they got their bill passed, or “die trying”. Would you want them to pay the fee by cash, credit card, or check? And how many disclosure reports do you want them to make? How much red tape, with presumable threats of some kind of prosecution for lack of compliance, do you want them entangled in? Because of the abuses by industry? For a cause that would most likely fail (and thay I would vote no on)? How much do you want from them?

      What if it was a single, solitary father? Life destroyed, quits job, decides to lobby for his bill. What then? What if he can’t pay? Well?

      These are the hard questions you need to answer. Especially as I detect in all of this a possibility that what we are seeing is a “scorched earth” policy, where lobbyists are saying “if you prevent us from doing business as ususal, we will make your life difficult too.” And the legislature, not wanting to lose the “bennies”, goes along with it in an effort to poison pill things, as well as to get back at the annoying advocacy groups. And given the stigma associated with the word “lobbyist”, once they get citizens in that snare, can not the legislators say “well, it was just a bunch if lobbyists, you know”, and the folks back home go on to some other subject. Are all these the real reasons behind these efforts? Beats me.

      But, it can be spun that way.

      I don’t have universal love for advocacy groups, esp. as I think of the role environmental groups play elsewhere. I actually don’t know if *anybody* should be required to pay good money to talk to legislators, because there is a right of petition. That is a discussion requiring more thought and time than available right now. But what I am very sure is those not making a living off of talking to legislators–common citizens, the yeomanry–shouldn’t. Period. Regardless of how many days they are up there.

      If this bill is passed, and it requires that kind of person to register, this law should be challenged.

      A final note–it seems to me that citizen groups depend for effectiveness on their ability to sway votes. Therefore, you are going to know who they are trying to influence, and for what, because they are going to have to tell you if they wish any kind of influence via voter retaliation.

      Industry’s arsenal, on the other hand, does not seem quite so limited.

      • Napoleon says:

        Short answer, absolutely they should have to register if they are going to sit there every day and lobby for a gun control bill.

        By the way, I WAS a lobbyist for a non-profit organization and, although I never had a dollar to pay for a hotdog for a legislator, I still filed reports too (all of them showing $0). I am currently NOT a lobbyist and have not been in years.

  6. I think this whole issue could be solved with a two-tiered system: a registration level (with disclosure requirements, etc.,) for professional lobbyists who are down at the lege daily, or who make a living at it; and another (without all the disclosure paperwork) for activists, citizens, garden-clubs, civic associations, schools and the like, which would entail wearing a badge as well. Maybe the pros can wear one that says “Lobbyist” and the others could wear one that says “Petitioner.” Neither should be required to pay a fee -I believe that’s been tried and found unconstitutional as nonchalant points out.
    The behavior we want to stop is not speech, and not petitioning the government. The behavior we want to stop is using gifts to get some legislative consideration that otherwise would not be given. YMMV.

    • Nonchalant says:

      I was thinking of putting that in the magnum opus above. My concern is the stigma associated with the word “lobbyist”, allowing legislators who wish to blow folks off just another reason to do so. Plus, I’m not sure of the absolute need. But I almost put it in, but the flow did not work, so I left it out.

      • “…stigma associated with the word “lobbyist”, allowing legislators who wish to blow folks off just another reason to do so.”
        1) There shouldn’t be a stigma associated with the word lobbyist.
        2) The people who are trying/have created what stigma there is, are in fact, engaging in lobbying.
        3) These same “citizen advocates” hurling the word “lobbyist” as an insult are NOT worried that legislators are ignoring lobbyists or petitioners. Quite the contrary.

        • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

          A good lobbyist or advocate provides detailed, accurate, information to Staff and Lawmakers alike, and ought to be as important to the process as the gavel itself.

          A bad lobbyist creates a pall over the entire process.

      • greencracker says:

        stigma over the word lobbyist?
        Once i was talking to a legislator and began my question “Given the stigma over the word ‘lobbyist’…”

        He said there’s no stigma over the word lobbyist, what was I talking about.
        #OutOfTouch
        But later in the interview he went back to it and said ya I guess the general public has a bad idea of lobbyists.
        #Ya,IThinkSo

    • Dave Bearse says:

      “The behavior we want to stop is not speech, and not petitioning the government. The behavior we want to stop is using gifts to get some legislative consideration that otherwise would not be given.”

      Who cares if they would otherwise not be given? What we want doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what we’ll get.

      After Richardson, what we wanted was it not be common knowledge that a politician screw someone lobbying a sponsored bill. What we got was greater transparency in campaign reporting accompanied by evisceraton of investigation and oversight.

      I want what Charlie wants: “A serious ethics reform package must contain two things: Independent oversight and personal accountability of the government official.”. Defining a lobbyist is something to be done after oversight and accountability are in place.

  7. Ghost of William F Buckley says:

    Speaker Ralston may have had this idea brought into the public eye without proper vetting. Or he has not have thought this through all the way. I am surprised to hear that a citizen advocate, working as a volunteer for a legitimate non-for-profit illness support group, might have to pay $320 to register as a lobbyist.

    Mike’s ‘two-tier’ approach seems logical, which may be the kiss of death.

  8. IndyInjun says:

    Be careful what you wish for Gold Dome gang……be careful indeed.

    You might get the lobbyist from hell.

      • IndyInjun says:

        Hassinger, they are going to rue this day and time.

        “What on EARTH were you thinking about Ralston? We had a perfect set-up, but nooooooo…….YOU had to demand that these anonymous bloggers come in….NOW WHAT?”

        The bloggers took to flogging.

        The politicos will think a jab in the butt with a pitchfork might have been better.

  9. The Speaker deserves credit for a brilliant political move – he distracted everyone from talking about the gift cap/ban. Instead, lobbyist registration is the main discussion while few seem outraged by a gift “ban” that still would allow his $17,000 trip to Europe.

    • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

      Really?

      And hear I was all ready to thank the good man from Ellijay for the new version of the Bill which drops the lobbyist registration fee from $300 a year to just $25.

      Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

  10. Will Durant says:

    How many citizen advocates are responsible for for HB176 allowing the state to usurp the role of local zoning boards for cell towers? How many bought and paid for lobbyists? How many bought and paid for pol… never mind.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Interesting…Abrams and 5 Republicans are the sponsors.

      I’m interested in more of your thoughts on the legislation. I spent only a couple minutes in purview, but it seemed to me the bill largely set sought to establish basic tatewide standards to be woven into local handling.

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