Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 30, 2013

GwinnettJackRussellTerrier

This adult male Jack Russell Terrier is in desperate need of an angel to save his life. His small size and the influx of dogs and cats at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter put him at the top of the list that dogs don’t want to be on. He is number 29769 at the Shelter.

For a matched pair, number 29814 (below) is a female Jack Russell Terrier, who is also available from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

GwinnettFemaleJackRussell29814

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Georgia General Assembly

The House Rules Committee will meet this morning at 9 AM in Room 341 of the Capitol. Twelve other House committees will meet today, including Joint Appropriations Subcommittees, where much of the real work on the budget is done. The Senate Committee calendar is short today, other than the Joint Appropriations Subcommittees and is available here.

Ethics

Speaker David Ralston held a press conference to present HB 142, the House Leadership Lobbying Reform bill, so-signed by State Reps. Larry O’Neal, Calvin Smyre, Jan Jones, Ed Lindsey and others.

Here’s the part you’re likely to hear the most about in coming days, the definition of who is required to register as a lobbyist and pay a registration fee:

(5) ‘Lobbyist’ means, subject to the qualifications at the end of this paragraph:

(A) Any natural person who receives compensation or provides services pro bono publico for advocating a position or agenda for the purpose of influencing the decision making of a public officer and who is neither subject to nor expressly exempted by any other provision of this paragraph;

[Note: in legislative drafting, underlined text will be added to the Georgia Code if the measure passes; language that is not underlined is already in the code; words stricken through will be removed from the Code.]

Under existing law, ‘lobbying’ is defined circularly as lobbying means the activity of a lobbyist while acting in that capacity” and “[subject to a couple exceptions] no person shall engage in lobbying as defined by this article unless such person is registered with the [Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance] Commission.”

Among the exceptions,

(i) The registration provisions of this Code section shall not apply to:

(1) Any individual who expresses personal views, on that individual’s own behalf, to any public officer other than a public officer who is elected state wide by the voters;

(1.1) A natural person providing services pro bono publico in an attempt to influence the decision of a public officer elected by the people if such natural person resides in the district or territory from which such public officer is elected;

(2) Any person who appears before a public agency or governmental entity committee or hearing, including but not limited to a committee of the General Assembly, for the purpose of giving testimony but only when such person is not otherwise required to comply with the registration provisions of this Code section appears at the specific request of the governmental entity and clearly identifies himself or herself and the interested party on whose behalf he or she is testifying;

Here’s my question: how does that not prevent the following from being required to register?

(a) the ladies of the Georgia Garden Clubs if the organizations adopt a position against clear-cutting of trees;

(b) some dude in the basement of his mother’s house with a website in which he calls himself a Tea Party and comments on which bills legislators should pass or oppose;

(c) the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board when it writes in support or opposition to legislation;

(d) a local Republican Party that has a legislator speak to members and adopts a position opposing tax increases.

Tea Party activists were quick with criticism, issuing a press release:

Atlanta Tea Party and other grassroots activist leaders reacted today to a new State House ethics bill which expands the definition of a lobbyist to include unpaid volunteers who advocate for issues and force them to register and pay a $300 fee.

Atlanta Tea Party Chairman Julianne Thompson stated, “It was one week ago at the State of the State, that  Governor Deal thoughtfully tasked the legislature with passing ethics reform to build public trust, not shut the doors to the public. With this provision to impose a $300 fee on volunteer activists who wish to petition their government on issues dear to their heart, this legislation is a slap in the face to citizens and amounts to a First Amendment tax.”

Georgia Tea Party Patriots State Coordinator Debbie Dooley added, “This provision has outraged activists on the right and on the left. This would even prevent pastors of Churches from going to the Gold Dome and exercising their First Amendment rights to speak for their Congregation to the legislature on behalf of life and other moral issues. This would even prevent teachers from talking to legislators on education issues before the body if they cannot afford to pay a fee to speak to those who govern us.”

GA Conservatives in Action Founder Kay Godwin stated, “I have been coming to the Capitol for 24 years on my own dime. I sleep on blow-up mattresses, eat off a card table, and share meals so I can afford to be here as an unpaid activist that cares about good government. I have also volunteered on the campaigns of countless public officials, and this legislation and those who brought it break my heart. They have forgotten that they work for us and since when does the employee charge a fee to the employer to speak to each other.”

Thompson continued “The poison pill in this ethics package kills two birds with one stone: First, it is an attempt to silence activists, who are unpaid, and cannot afford to pay a fee to speak to government officials. Secondly, they know the outrage by activists will force this ethics bill to die and they will claim they tried to enact reform, but it is all smoke and mirrors. With this assault on the First Amendment, the sponsors and co-signers of this bill will have dug a bigger divide of mistrust between them and the voters, and this is a poison pill we will not swallow.

We strongly believe this bill would be rejected by Governor Deal and the Senate, and we call on committed conservatives in the State House to reject this bill and offer real ethics legislation that helps build trust through governing themselves, instead of punishing their constituents.”

Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) was more circumspect in his analysis:

Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus, who has pushed for setting limits on lobbyist expenditures, said Ralston’s bill was a good sign since the General Assembly is moving toward setting some rules on lobbyist spending. Still, McKoon said the proposal contained spending loopholes and would represent an unconstitutional restriction of free speech.

McKoon said he was considering whether to introduce Senate legislation that would address those concerns.

“The effect of this would be to severely chill citizen activism to the point that you would essentially be evicting those from the Capitol who don’t have $300 to petition their government and have their voices heard,” he said.

AJC writer Kyle Wingfield likes the legislation:

I’ve given the two bills Ralston introduced a once-over, and my initial impression is that they are a serious effort toward addressing public concerns about special interests’ inordinate influence over the lawmaking process. The package includes:

  • an outright ban on lobbyist gifts to all elected public officials in Georgia, at both the state and local levels of government, with only a couple of relatively narrow exceptions (more on those later);
  • a broader definition of “lobbyist” to require registration of more people who seek to influence lawmakers;

Any criticisms of the package are likely to focus on two areas. First, the exceptions to the gift ban for some travel expenses “that directly relate to the official duties of that public officer or the office of that public officer,” as well as for food and beverages if they are provided to all members of the General Assembly, the House, the Senate, party caucuses, or standing committees and subcommittees.

Second, the broader definition of the word “lobbyist” is bound to strike some people as an attempt to require the registration (including a $300 fee) of anyone who walks into the Capitol during the legislative session. I don’t think that was the intent: There are some folks around the Capitol who ought to qualify as lobbyists but who manage to go unregistered. But it’s worth thinking about which kinds of people might be ensnared, intentionally or not, by that broader definition.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think you even have to enter the Capitol or speak to a legislator to be required to register as a lobbyist under the language above.

I don’t believe that the House Leadership is trying to muzzle Georgians. They’re trying to ensure that an apparent loophole in existing law that they think allows some people who are effectively professional lobbyists to escape registration. But as written, I have grave concerns about the bill they’ve written to address this small issue.

Common Cause Executive Director William Perry thinks the legislation falls short elsewhere:

“The talking points say we get a complete ban,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. “And what we get is nowhere near a complete ban.”

Perry told Georgia Public Broadcasting:

Perry said the key is the exclusion of gifts of food and beverage at events that are open to all members of the House or Senate or a committee or a subcommittee.

“Any committee chairman could just appoint a subcommittee of one,” said Perry, whose group is part of the Georgia Ethics Alliance. “And it doesn’t say that all members have to attend – just that they have to be invited.”

House Democratic Party leader Stacey Abrams spoke to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

The reform package would expand the definition of lobbyists, an effort to reduce the number of unregistered advocates for special interests lobbying at the Capitol.

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, said putting tighter controls on unregistered lobbyists is more important than limiting gifts.

“When you put in an artificial cap and don’t capture the people you’re after, you only get the good actors,” she said. “We need to get the bad actors.”

And speaking to the AJC, Abrams clarified who one of those bad actors might be.

“I think Grover Norquist has had an outsized influence on the way we discuss and debate issues here at the Capitol. I think anyone who can change the direction of a state should be considered a lobbyist and should be captured by our rules and responsibilities. The fact that he has never been paid to do so in the state of Georgia should not exclude or exempt him from responsibility for the work that he does.”

Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform. The anti-tax organization has condemned the “bed tax” deal crafted by Gov. Nathan Deal to patch a hole in the state’s method of Medicaid financing. The measure passed the Senate two weeks ago, and now is working its way through the House.

Senate 2014

Sonny Perdue is out.

Perdue said a run for U.S. Senate is not in the cards for him.

“While I am flattered by friends from across Georgia who contacted me this weekend and offered their support, running for the U.S. Senate is not in my heart. I am at a stage in life where there are simply too many positive distractions – a dozen grandchildren with number 13 on the way, business obligations and a loving and devoted wife who has absolutely no interest in living in Washington, and who could blame her?” Perdue said.

Congressman Paul Broun is in. At least according to his wife.

Congressman Tom Price is considering it. From Lori Geary via Twitter:

Congressman Price: If there are greater opportunities to help turn the Senate around…that’s something we’re seriously considering.

Congressman Phil Gingrey is apparently also considering it: Via Kyle Wingfield on Twitter:

Just spoke w/ Phil Gingrey, on his way to meet w/ Gov. Deal to discuss #GASen. Decision likely by next week. Says family “on board.”

A free gift to anyone who can figure out how to make an online game out of all this speculation.

Congress 2014

If Congressman Broun is really in the race for Senate, his Congressional seat becomes open. We heard speculation over the last few weeks that State Senator Bill Cowsert might run against Broun. If both pieces of the puzzle are true, Cowsert would be a likely candidate in an open seat.

I think that Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols (R-Augusta) could give a run for the money in that race. Echols was campaign treasurer and spokesperson for Broun’s successful campaign for the seat. I think Echols is highly unlikely to run.

Ends & Pieces

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer writes about unintended consequences of Criminal Justice Reform.

one unintended (though with the clarity of hindsight, perhaps not unforeseeable) consequence of criminal sentencing reform is already making itself evident: As fewer nonviolent offenders are sentenced to hard time, the proportion of violent criminals in state prisons — the worst of the worst — has increased accordingly. That percentage will almost certainly grow, and the resulting danger and strain for prison guards will get worse.

It’s a trend lawmakers should take into account when they tackle juvenile justice reform this session; Deal has also said the state will be looking at further changes in the adult justice system, and this looks like an important problem to address.

I first read of this issue in a column by Walter Jones.

 

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