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New ethics rules, lobbying cap signed into law

ATLANTA -- With the governor's signature Monday, news laws took strides to control ethics in the financing of politics in Georgia.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law two bills that shore up rules on lobbying legislators and funding campaigns.

Five months after calling for ethics reform in his State of the State address, Deal signed House Bill 142, which places a $75 cap on lobbyist spending at the General Assembly and makes trips and expensive tickets to events illegal. He also signed House Bill 143, which requires more transparency in campaign fund-raising and spending during certain local races and allows the public to know about any campaign donations given to members of the General Assembly leading up to the start of the legislative session.

"I have enacted these bills to strengthen ethics laws in our state because the public demanded it and good government longed for it," Deal said in a press release.

"Our success as leaders of Georgia depends heavily on the public's ability to trust us," he added. "Georgians are correct to insist that the voices of the people echo louder under the Gold Dome than the narrow views of special interests. Together, these bills constitute a major step in improving ethics, trust and transparency in our state."

Along with the spending cap, which is exempted for things given to committees, subcommittees or delegations, HB 142 gives rule-making authority back to the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission and creates a specific definition for a lobbyist, after concerns arose over individuals voicing their opinions to legislators having to register.

The second law requires county and school board candidates to file contribution and expense reports with the county election superintendent instead of the state and requires legislators to disclose campaign contributions of more than $100 between Jan. 1 and the beginning of the legislative session by Jan. 31, as opposed to March 31.

"As a long-time supporter of lobbyist gift limits, I am proud of the steps taken by the General Assembly to enact common sense limitations into law," said Sen. David Shafer, the Duluth Republican who serves as Senate president pro tem. Shafer served on a conference committee to hash out the final version of the law between the House and Senate. "This is an important step to fostering an ethical culture in which lobbyist influence is limited and issues are decided on merit."

WHAT IT MEANS

HB 142 overhauls the ethics laws relating to public officials and employees by giving regulatory authority back to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, and defining lobbyist expenditure as the following:

· Any expense exceeding $75 for transportation, travel, lodging, registration, food and beverages.

· Tickets for admission to athletic, sporting, recreational, musical concert or other entertainment events, unless face value is paid by the recipient.

· Recreational or leisure activities.

The bill also prohibits any expenditure by a lobbyist except:

· Widely distributed promotional items.

· Food and beverages produced in Georgia.

· Awards, plaques, certificates or mementos.

· Discounts, upgrades, memberships, or other accommodations extended by a business to a bona fide customer.

· Legitimate salary, benefits, fees or commissions associated with recipient’s nonpublic business.

· Campaign contribution.

· Food beverages and registration at group events (entire agency, entire General Assembly, full House, full Senate, standing committees of each body, majority and minority caucuses of each body, any group approved by the Commission).

· Reimbursement or payment of actual and reasonable expenses for the cost of attendance at a educational, informational, charitable or civic meeting or conference held within the United States and directly relates to the official duties of the public officer, plus food and beverages for such public officer. Spouse and staff are included.

Defines “lobbyist” as the following:

· Person who receives or anticipates receiving more than $250 per calendar year in compensation or reimbursement, specifically for undertaking lobbying.

· Person who makes a total lobbying expenditure of more at $1,000.

· Person who is compensated specifically for undertaking lobbying.

Furthermore, it requires that all lobbyists must register with the commission before commencing lobbying activities, adds a new requirement for lobbyists disclose any state agency they will be lobbying in an attempt to influence rulemaking or purchasing. However, registration provisions do not apply to:

· Citizens who communicate their own personal views, interests or professional opinions.

· Employees or independent contractors who solely participate in soliciting a bid or preparing a written bid.

· People invited to testify by Legislature.

· People invited to testify by public agency or governmental entity.

· Officials of a business or group that employs a lobbyist, if that official is not compensated for lobbying and does not incur $250 of expenditures per year.

· Attorneys representing clients when such attorney is not paid specifically for lobbying

· Public official or officer

· Public employee, aide or intern who performs services at direction of General Assembly

HB 143 focuses primarily on campaign finance and:

· Adds “attorney fees connected to and in furtherance of the campaign” to the definition of “ordinary and necessary campaign expenses.”

· Requires all county and school board candidates to file campaign contribution and campaign expenditure reports with the county election superintendent.

-Exception: Candidates who do not raise or spend greater than $2,500.

· Requires all municipal candidates to file campaign contribution and campaign expenditure reports with the municipal clerk.

-Exception: Candidates who do not raise or spend greater than $2,500.

· Requires significantly earlier disclosure of all campaign contributions greater than $100 received by a member of the General Assembly between Jan. 1 and the commencement of session. Those donations must now be reported by Jan. 31, as opposed to March 31.

Comments

kevin 11 months, 3 weeks ago

let's see how long this lasts and if the exceptions to these bills causes issues.

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