Sunday, August 12, 2012
© Copyright 2013
Gwinnett Daily Post
ATLANTA -- House Speaker David Ralston said Saturday that he will propose banning lobbyists from giving gifts to state lawmakers, a decision that comes after residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of nonbinding referendums to set limits.
Lobbyists can now spend as much as they want to influence Georgia's state lawmakers as long as they disclose that spending in public reports. Ralston, the top Republican in the House, said he supports the current disclosure rules and has opposed legislation that would have limited -- though not banned -- lobbyist spending on lawmakers. He called lobbying caps a "gimmick" on Saturday and said they could be abused. He said he planned to introduce the measure banning gifts outright when the General Assembly reconvenes next year.
About 81 percent of Georgia voters, or more than 1 million people, voted in favor of limiting what lobbyists can spend on state lawmakers in separate ballot questions in the Republican and Democratic primary elections on July 31.
"I've said that if we ever decided to move away from that system, I thought the alternative would be a prohibition," said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. "I think that you know we have a ballot question that the people of Georgia expressed their opinion. I don't think they were given all the options they should have been given. And so I think that if we're going to give Georgia real and serious reform, this is the only way to do it."
The Republican leader said he planned to create a study group when the General Assembly reconvenes in January to examine how other states ban lobbyist gifts.
Ralston said the outcome of the recent referendum was only part of the motivation behind his decision. The question on the Democratic ballot asked voters whether they wanted to end rules that allow for unlimited lobbyist spending. The Republican ballot asked whether voters would support a $100 cap on gifts to lawmakers, though there was no explanation of how it would work.
"I think it's sort of a feel-good gimmick that's being espoused by people who are looking for a platform to be relevant," said Ralston, refusing to name whom he was speaking about.