Georgia Lawmakers Still Can’t Raise Campaign Money With Legislature In Limbo
Georgia’s ethics commission says lawmakers still cannot receive campaign contributions during the legislative session, even though this year’s session is suspended indefinitely because of the coronavirus.
In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission approved an advisory opinion that says since the legislature is not adjourned, representatives and Senators can’t fundraise for the June 9 primary until they are no longer in session.
The question about contributions was brought by state Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta), who has several primary challengers in the upcoming contest.
Her attorney, Matthew Weiss, said at the commission’s telephone meeting that dozens of incumbents under the Gold Dome with primary challengers would be at a disadvantage.
“There’s virtually no time to for an incumbent in either house of the General Assembly to raise money before their primary,” he said. “This is even after the primary had been pushed back several weeks by the secretary of state.”
The legislative session still has 11 days of its 40-day session left on the books, as well as the major challenge of passing the fiscal year 2021 budget.
Weiss and two commission members argued that when House and Senate leaders suspended business, that technically adjourned the session.
But Rep. Micah Gravely (R-Douglasville) said that dozens of pending bills – including the budget – means that is not the case.
“We simply adjourned and went into suspension, the legislative session is still open,” he said. “We have not got an agreed-upon date with the Senate in which we are going to come back and reconvene. But we did not agree, nor did the Senate agree with us, that we were going to adjourn Sine Die.”
The legislature is also statutorily required to pass a balanced budget each year before they can adjourn, and Commission Chairman Jake Evans said simply that neither of those have happened yet, so the opinion should hold.
“No budget has been adopted, and no adjournment of Sine Die has taken place, and therefore session is still active until those two things occur,” he said.
The 30-year old ban on contributions during the legislative session was put into place as a way to limit the potential influence of lobbyists and other non-legislators trying to pressure lawmakers to cast their vote a certain way or allot funding for certain priorities.
The commission also approved an opinion that allows incumbents to reimburse themselves if they use personal money to pay campaign expenses while the legislature is on hiatus.