Georgia is one of just three states that has no cap on gifts from lobbyists to elected officials. That could change next year if a coalition of groups from across the political spectrum has its way.
The Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform plans to support a bill that would cap gifts from lobbyists at $100.
“That would put us at around the mid-point compared to other states,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, one of the groups included in the alliance.
“We are trying to be reasonable. We don’t want to stand in the way of a business lunch. We don’t want to stand in the way of a lawmaker learning about some issue,” Perry said in a town hall meeting at Dalton City Hall Tuesday night on ethics reform.
Other alliance members are Georgia Conservatives in Action, Georgia Tea Party Patriots, Georgia Watch and the League of Women Voters of Georgia.
Elizabeth Poythress, president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia, noted that Georgia voters overwhelmingly supported caps on gifts from lobbyists in the July general primary.
The Republican primary ballot asked voters, “Do you support ending the current practice of unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators by imposing a $100 cap on such gifts?” Statewide, 87.22 percent of voters in that primary approved of such a cap.
The Democratic ballot asked, “Do you support ending the current practice permitting unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators?” Statewide, 72.56 percent of voters in that primary approved limiting gifts from lobbyists to legislators.
Perry said those votes not only showed that Georgia residents support caps on lobbyists but are looking for more comprehensive ethics reform. He said the alliance is also working with lawmakers on other ethics-related bills that he expects will be introduced when the General Assembly convenes next year.
Perry said the alliance would like to see a constitutional amendment setting the funding for the Georgia Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission at a percentage of the overall state budget. That would guarantee its funding, he said, which has been cut by 42 percent since 2008, and make sure it can enforce state ethics laws.
He said the group is also looking at a comprehensive bill that would address issues such as politicians transferring campaign funds to one another, nepotism and the “revolving door” of lawmakers’ staff members becoming lobbyists. Perry noted that state law bars elected officials from becoming lobbyists for a year after they leave office but no such limit exists for their staff members.
Mayor David Pennington thanked the group for “throwing a light” on state ethics laws.
“This is an extremely important issue for Georgia,” he said.
Dalton Tea Party organizer Naomi Swanson said the alliance will be getting support from that group during the next legislative session.