Pols, lobbyists cash out before new law kicks in [Legal Monitor Worldwide]
(Legal Monitor Worldwide Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Some things and people never change, and some things and people change only when they supposedly have to (if then).
One of the longtime traditions in Georgia politics that ostensibly will change is the heretofore unlimited gravy train shuttling back and forth between lobbyists and elected officials who hold power over legislation affecting the interests that pay the lobbyists.
With new rules (the effectiveness of which remains to be seen) scheduled to kick in … well, technically tomorrow, lawmakers and the interests that coddle them have in recent weeks and months been quite literally cashing in before the deadlines.
A few specifics as reported by Associated Press:
Public Service Commissioners Lauren "Bubba" McDonald and Doug Everett accepted $250 in tickets to an AT&T golf tournament … from AT&T. Presumably the relationship between a telephone company and the commission that regulates it can, under the right circumstances, be a purely social one.
Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, got Falcons tickets worth $340 from a lobbyist for Sprint. Parsons chairs the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.
Back in June, Reps. Mickey Channell and Butch Parrish got rounds of golf paid for by a UHS-Pruitt Corp. lobbyist. Channell chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.
Under the law that will take effect for the 2014 General Assembly, lobbyists will be banned from spending more than $75 at a time on public officials, or paying for officials' attendance at recreational events like sports, concerts or Wrestlemania.
(We didn't make that last one up. Check the record.)
You don't have to be an experienced manipulator of political rules (See Balfour, Don) to find the canyon-size loopholes in the new law. For one thing, it doesn't take a lot of "little" gifts to add up to a pretty big one. For another, the law will have to be interpreted and enforced by a bare-bones state ethics commission -- stripped to said bare bones in recent years by the very legislature it is supposed to regulate. For yet another, it doesn't define "reasonable expenses" for officials on trips related to their duties.
But even if the alleged tightening of ethics law turns out to be mostly cosmetic, that hasn't stopped some in the game from playing with bigger chips while they still can.
"That was my expectation of why they waited until Jan 1 …" William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, told AP. "There was no other reason other than to work in one more Masters Tournament, one more baseball season, one more football season before the new law went into effect."
Reasonable skepticism aside, it's impossible as yet to see whether the new lobbying rules will have an appreciable effect on ethical standards, or on public perception of them. What's easy to see is why Georgians think ethics reform is so necessary in the first place.
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