Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

March 30, 2013

New rules raise fresh lobbying issues

ATLANTA — The new $75 limit on lobbyist spending in Georgia may prove looser than its supporters initially hoped.

State lawmakers voted during their chaotic final session Thursday to set the state’s first restrictions on lobbyist spending. If the plan is signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, it would end a system allowing lobbyists to spend as much as they want as long as that spending is publicly reported.

After the vote, there were questions Friday on whether it still allows lobbyists to skirt the $75 cap and gives attorneys ways to avoid the regulations altogether.

Those questions are a product of the chaotic process. While the debate over lobbyist spending went on for months, the final legislation was not unveiled until just hours before the vote. It was negotiated by a six-man committee of lawmakers behind closed doors, giving other legislators limited chances to ask questions or make changes to the final draft.

“I’m not saying this was bad intent on anyone’s behalf, but when you have a process like we had in the last 40 hours, sometimes things slip through the cracks, and I think a fairly large loophole was created,” said Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus, who pushed for lobbying limits but was not on the negotiating team. “What we’ll clearly need is a cleanup bill to fix some of those things.”

Legislative leaders acknowledged the bill was imperfect, a product of forced compromise between rival House and Senate plans.

“Sometimes you just have differences of opinions with people, and sometimes it’s more important that you do something rather than nothing,” House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, told reporters Thursday. “We’ve moved the ball down the field. For the first time, we do have a limitation on spending — and I think that’s important.”

Earlier plans made clear that public officials could not accept gifts such as meals, tickets or entertainment worth more than a specified value. However, the measure approved Thursday only limits what lobbyists can spend, not what public officials can accept. That could make it possible for two lobbyists to split the cost of a $150 baseball ticket for a single lawmaker without violating the law.

“Because it’s on the expenditure and not the gift, it allows the ticket splitting,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia.

The plan contains other exceptions to the general rule. It would not set any total spending caps, meaning lobbyists can make multiple $75 expenditures on an official in a single day. Lobbyists could also spend as much as they wanted hosting events open to all members of the General Assembly, legislative committees and caucuses. After being criticized for those loopholes, legislative leaders added restrictions limiting the committee events to one annually and forcing all caucuses to seek approval from either the House or Senate Ethics Committee.

The bill would allow lobbyists to pay to send public officials and their staff on trips within the United States so long as it is connected to their official duties.

There was confusion Friday over whether the bill may allow lawyers to avoid registering as lobbyists. The existing law says that attorneys do not need to register if they are representing a client in an adversarial case before the state, for example, defending a firm in an administrative law case. The newly approved legislation appears to expand that exemption, saying that attorneys and their staff do not need to register if they are representing a client and not getting paid specifically to lobby. It makes no reference to ongoing legal cases.

Some legislators described that change as a minor amendment meant to clarify the law, but professional lobbyists worried it would allow attorneys to lobby without registering, abiding by spending limits and disclosing their expenditures. Leaders at Common Cause Georgia said they expect to ask the state’s ethics commission to clarify the issue using its newly approved rulemaking power.

“It certainly could be construed to give a waiver to attorneys,” said Jet Toney of the Georgia Professional Lobbyists Association.

Russell Sewell, a lobbyist for the State Bar of Georgia, said he did not believe the new wording would have any practical change on state law. Sewell said that under current law, clients can hire attorneys to review legislation and explain those proposals to others, including lawmakers, without registering as lobbyists. He said that if lawyers go beyond offering legal advice, for example, taking lawmakers to dinner and pressing them to support or oppose legislation, those lawyers must still register as lobbyists.

“I don’t think it gives lawyers any more ways to skirt the law than maybe existed before,” Sewell said. “I’ve always told lawyers who come down there if they’re down here all the time, they need to register.”

If signed by the governor, the new law takes effect Jan. 1.

Text Only
Top News
  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Commission to vote to purchase new computers

    Lowndes County commissioners discussed replacing outdated computers, a bid for an emergency bypass pump, an annexation request from the City of Hahira, a juvenile justice grant application, and an appointment to the dangerous dog board.

    April 22, 2014

  • KLVB receives Governor’s Circle Recognition Award

    Keep Lowndes/Valdosta Beautiful received the Governor’s Circle Award. These inaugural, statewide awards were presented by Gov. Nathan Deal at the State Capitol .

    April 22, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum reviews ‘The Art Forger’

     “Fascinating” is the word to describe the world of art forgery as revealed by guest reviewer Laura Hughes to Readers’ Forum.

    April 22, 2014

  • Immigration _Rich copy.jpg DHS secretary re-evaluating deportation priorities

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he’s re-evaluating the Obama administration’s deportation priorities to make certain they’re focused on national security, public safety and border security, amid growing pressure from the Latino community and President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats. 

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rethinking Pot 420_Rich copy.jpg Public smoke-out marks pot holiday in Colorado

    Tens of thousands of revelers raised joints, pipes and vaporizer devices to the sky Sunday at a central Denver park in a defiant toast to the April 20 pot holiday, a once-underground celebration that stepped into the mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Submarine Sleep Sched_Rich copy.jpg Navy OKs changes for submariners’ sleep schedules

    With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the U.S. Navy for decades has staggered sailors’ working hours on schedules with little resemblance to life above the ocean’s surface.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Grim work for families as more bodies discovered

    There are no names listed as relatives huddle around signboards to identify bodies from a sunken ferry. Just the slimmest of clues about mostly young lives now lost. Many favored hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

Top News

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
     View Results