HB143 is a rather simple bill. It requires Legislators who receive donations after the December 31st reporting deadline and before the beginning of the Legislative session (the second Monday of January) to file a report detailing the donations received. Currently such donations would not be reported until the March 31st report in election years or the June 30th report in non-election years. The bill also allows local elected officials who collect less than $2500 during a reporting period to file their disclosure reports locally rather than in Atlanta with the Campaign Finance Commission. Indications are this provision could significantly reduce the workload of the CFC, allowing them more time and resources to do the other things they are tasked with doing.
HB142 does several things: it bans gifts and meals to individual Legislators, restores rule making authority to the Georgia Campaign Finance and Transparency Commission, and clarifies the registration process for Lobbyists by removing the confusing 10% rule. Stopping unlimited lobbyist expenditures and restoring rule making authority to the Campaign Finance Commission are two key things ethics reformers have been calling for. Make no mistake, banning lobbyist gifts and meals to individual Legislators represents a significant change in the culture of the Capitol.
Much of the public discussion thus-far about HB142 centered around the lobbyist registration requirements. My reading of this bill, as well as my discussions with others about this bill lead me to believe no citizen will be hindered from speaking to Legislators (see lines 305-309 of the bill). Other exemptions for citizens are spelled out in lines 310 – 352. In addition, the registration fee for all lobbyists was reduced to $25. If someone speaks on behalf of an organization for the purposes of influencing the outcome of Legislation, they are exempted from reporting requirements if they are not paid for their lobbying (see lines 275-290). I think these provisions are fair. At some point the public has a right to know who is at the Capitol trying to influence Legislator’s votes. We can provide lobbyist transparency without hindering citizens from speaking to their Elected Officials.
We’ve debated the topic of ethics reform on Peach Pundit for a long, long time. Much has been said and much more will be said in the coming days. The process of ethics reform during this Legislative session has reached half time. Now the Senate will weigh in. There is still a long way to go but we took an important step yesterday in improving our laws.