Gov. Nathan Deal brought Georgia in line with nearly every other state in the nation Monday by signing into law the state’s first restrictions on lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers. Deal’s action puts in place the first major piece of ethics reform Georgia has passed in decades.
Until now, lobbyists in the Peach State had been free to lavish legislators with gifts and junkets of any size. But starting next year, they’ll be forbidden from spending more than $75 per gift.
The previous lack of gift rules was one of many reasons why Georgia ranked dead last a year ago in the State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven ranking of state government accountability and transparency carried out by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. In addition to its overall grade of F, Georgia received failing grades in the specific categories of lobbying disclosure and legislative accountability.
“Our success as leaders of Georgia depends heavily on the public’s ability to trust us,” Deal said in a statement after signing the gift ban along with a second bill that deals with campaign finance reporting, primarily at the local level. “Together, these bills constitute a major step in improving ethics, trust and transparency in our state.”
While advocates of tighter ethics laws hailed the legislation as a step in the right direction, the gift cap bill contains several exceptions they believe substantially weaken the provision.
“It’s like you’re starving for a meal and somebody gave you a saltine cracker,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, an advocacy group.
The bill permits lobbyists to pool their gifts, allowing three colleagues to jointly buy a dinner worth $200, for example. Lobbyists can also continue to shower committees and other group events with gifts of any size, and they can open their wallets to spend freely on travel for lawmakers as long as it is within the country and related to legislators’ official duties. The measure also makes it easier for lawyers to advocate for specific issues without registering as lobbyists, Perry noted.
“It’s chock full of loopholes,” he said.