The AJC reports:
House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, will propose next year a full ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, delighting ethics advocates and worrying some lobbyists.
Ralston told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that a simple cap on the value of those gifts would do little to stem the influence of special interests. Instead, he said, he will propose to end the practice outright.
“I have always said while I believe the current system is a good system because it does provide information and it’s open and transparent that if we didn’t have that system then a prohibition would be better than a cap, and I haven’t changed my mind,” Ralston said.
Voters “spoke on the issue in the primary,” Ralston said. “I’m committed from the House side to making sure we have real, serious ethics reform.”
Ralston’s move has been questioned by some as a ploy. With Senate leaders on record supporting a cap, Ralston could argue instead for an outright ban, and the resulting legislative scrum could scuttle any change in the current system. But Ralston said he is committed to getting it done, and his support would lend the effort a serious chance to pass.
Jet Toney, chairman of the Georgia Professional Lobbyists Association, said his 140-plus members are split on the issue.
“Some members believe that a cap or a ban would level the playing field,” he said. “Others would not like to see a cap or ban because it would, they believe, disadvantage them.”
Kay Godwin, with Georgia Conservatives in Action, said she believed Ralston was sincere and added that she was “delighted” to work with him and other leaders.
“I think we have good guys in Georgia,” Godwin said. “We respect their opinions. They respect ours. Out of both we can work together.”
Here’s a suggestion: take a look at Senator Josh McKoon’s bill and consider implementing the allowance for travel, accomodations, etc. for some limited set of expenses that currently are often reported as “gifts.”
McKoon is sponsoring an ethics bill that would cap lobbyist gifts at $100 and set a limit of $750 for travel, meals, and accommodations for conferences and speaking engagements for lawmakers.
Here’s the money quote from McKoon’s bill:
S. B. 391 LC 35 2494
(a)(1) No lobbyist shall make at any single event an expenditure to a public officer, an employee or a staff member of a public officer who works in support of the public office in which such officer serves, or a member of the family of a public officer in an amount exceeding $100.00 per such officer, employee, staff member, or family member; provided, however, that any reimbursement or payment of actual and reasonable expenses provided to a public officer or a family member, employee, or staff member of a public officer for transportation, travel, lodging, registration, food, beverages, and other activities related to attending a meeting or conference so as to permit a public officer’s participation in such meeting or conference shall be limited to not more than $750.00. Beginning January 1, 2013, and annually thereafter, the limitation on expenditures specified in this subsection shall be increased by .03 percent or by a percentage equal to the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less.