Georgia legislators have OK’d a historic gift cap on the last day of the legislative session to rein in lobbyists’ influence. Critics say it has too many loopholes but all parties say it has already changed the political culture at the Gold Dome.
The bill would limit lobbyists’ gifts to individual lawmakers at $75 per expenditure.
Lawmakers tussled over a provision to force citizen activists at the Capitol register with the state. Tea Party members say it was unconstitutional and aimed at them.
Ultimately, lawmakers opted to require registration for paid lobbyists and activists who are reimbursed for more than $250 of expenses a year.
House Speaker David Ralston is the bill’s author. He said lawmakers acted on voters’ support for a gift cap on last summer’s primary ballot.
“I think the people of Georgia can know we kept faith with them and that we passed even now what is the strongest and toughest ethics bill in the history of the state,” he said.
But while the measure has already put a chill on lobbyists’ spending, critics say it still contains too many loopholes.
William Perry is with Common Cause Georgia, one of the groups pushing for the cap. He says the will allow lobbyists to spend whatever they want on entire groups, but not on individual lawmakers.
“With a lot of local delegations in a lot of counties, you can invite the Burke County delegation and that’s probably only two people – one Representative and one Senator – and that lifts the cap and you can spend unlimited,” he said in an interview.
The bill would apply to state as well as local lawmakers. And it would restore rule-making authority to the state's ethics commissions, which lawmakers removed several years ago.
It now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature. Before the vote, he voiced his support for the measure.