Lawmakers in the General Assembly must soon decide which proposal, if any, to adopt if they want to end a system that allows unlimited lobbyist spending. Any bills not adopted by the end of the state’s legislative session on March 28 automatically fail for the year. The full Senate is expected to vote on the plan today.
The Senate Rules Committee voted Thursday to approve major changes to a plan earlier adopted by the House of Representatives. Sen. Jeff Mullis, chairman of the Rules Committee, said the law would apply to all levels of Georgia government, from city mayors to the governor.
Officials in governments that do not set their own rules on lobbyist spending would be prohibited from accepting lobbyist gifts. Under the Senate plan, governments that adopt their own rules could not allow their officials to accept more than $100 from lobbyists at a time, though lobbyists could make multiple expenditures in a single day.
“We believe that transparency in government should be so that the people have confidence in those who lead them,” said Mullis (R-Chickamauga).
If adopted in a Senate floor vote expected today, the plan will likely create conflict with leading House Republicans. Ralston earlier denounced spending caps as “gimmicks” and supported a plan that would have prohibited lobbyist spending on individual lawmakers. But Ralston’s plan left big exceptions, for example, allowing lobbyists to spend without limit on legislative committees, caucuses and delegations.
The Senate version would eliminate those loopholes.
“I think what is really revolutionary about the Senate proposal is we have gotten away form a series of places where giving can be unlimited, uncapped,” said Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus) a leading proponent of limiting lobbyist spending. “And the House proposal kept that in place — you were still going to have unlimited giving taking place with less transparency.”
Another conflict remains over rules governing who must register as a lobbyist and publicly report their spending.
Ralston wanted to change the rules to require more people to register, including some volunteer lobbyists for nonprofit or small groups. Under Ralston’s plan, people lobbying for free would have to register if they spent more than five days at the Statehouse seeking to influence state officials.
The Senate plan would keep the current rules. Currently, people must register as lobbyists if they are paid to lobby and spend more than 10 percent of their time seeking to influence officials. They must also register if they spend more than $1,000 annually on lobbying efforts.
Ralston said he had not read the Senate bill by mid-day Thursday, though he had concerns about the Senate’s proposed spending cap and lobbying rules.
“One thing that we have found out is that people who lobby don’t want to be called lobbyists in this process,” Ralston told reporters. “But they’re lobbying. The Senate apparently doesn’t see that as a problem. We took a lot different approach, and I haven’t changed my mind about that.”
If approved by the full Senate, the amended plan would return to the House for a vote.