That said, it’s equally unfathomable that Georgia is one of only three states in the nation that have no regulations whatsoever on gifts that lobbyists give legislators (the other two are Indiana and South Dakota). The sky’s the limit.
It’s time to bring things closer to earth. The notion that Georgia is wide open to special-interest giving, when combined with this year’s report that the state is dead last in the nation when it comes to laws on public corruption and government openness, is a horrid combination.
It doesn’t automatically mean, of course, that everyone is corrupt, or even corruptible. Indeed, there are many honest, hard-working and responsible lawmakers who are serving for all the right reasons. What it does mean, however, is that the system under which all lawmakers serve is open to corruptibility. Thus, it’s broken.
And it’s time to fix it by tightening things up. A proposed $100 limit on lobbyist gifts to state lawmakers that died in the Georgia Legislature this year is suddenly alive and kicking. Thank Republican tea party activists and good-government groups like Common Cause, Georgia Watch and the League of Women Voters for reviving this measure.
In the private sector, the concept of gift limits within organizations and businesses is nothing new. Employers use such policies to encourage honesty and ethical behavior.
In the public sector, similar rules also apply. Every state that surrounds Georgia places limits on gifts that lawmakers can accept from lobbyists, or have banned the practice completely. State government hasn’t ground to a halt as a result.
Interestingly, the $100-limit bill that State Sen. Josh McCoon (R-Columbus), first proposed — and then watched as it got buried — is on the July 31 primary ballot as a nonbinding resolution for Republican and Democratic voters. This is how it reads: “Do you support ending the current practice of unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators by imposing a $100 cap on such gifts.”
Since that was added, many lawmakers can’t climb aboard the good-government train fast enough. At least 70 lawmakers and legislative candidates support it. The question is nonbinding. So leaders in the state House and Senate are free to ignore it. In fact, House Speaker David Ralston opposes the gift limit, suggesting that supporters are vastly overblowing its impact. And he may have a point.
Special interest groups can get around the $100 cap by giving unlimited dollars to party caucuses, which in turn can dole out funds to individual lawmakers.
But Ralston’s credibility took a hit when he and his family went on a lobbyist-paid, $17,000 trip to Europe in 2010. He described it as a working trip to study how European nations blend their transportation systems with economic development. Others, however, have called it a free vacation.
But why even create such doubts to begin with? There’s a reason why the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” has been around such a long time — most people of a certain age know it to be largely true.
That doesn’t mean all recipients are selling their souls. But why tolerate the temptation? The $100 limit is hardly radical. Georgia voters — and those elected to represent them — should embrace it.