clear
Friday September 4th, 2015 2:56PM

New issues raised by new Ga. lobbying rules

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
ATLANTA (AP) - 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.
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 1 year ago )
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Medicaid growth creates gap of 5M without coverage; 409K in Ga.
About 5 million people will be without health care next year that they would have gotten simply if they lived somewhere else in America.
7:30AM ( 1 year ago )
Vandals spray graffiti against Kerry in West Bank
Suspected Jewish vandals set fire to three vehicles in a West Bank village early on Tuesday and sprayed threatening graffiti referring to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of his expected visit to the region, police said.
7:28AM ( 1 year ago )
Feds announce test sites for drone aircraft
The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.
2:23PM ( 1 year ago )
Politics
US stocks sink as mixed jobs report keeps investors guessing about the rate outlook
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks extended their steep losses Friday after a mixed U.S. jobs report left investors uncertain about the outlook for the Federal Reserve's interest rate policy.The report showe...
1:41PM ( 1 hour ago )
NC ag officials talking about avian flu with flock owners
Agriculture department officials in North Carolina are holding a series of meeting with backyard poultry owners to talk about the dangers of avian flu.
By The Associated Press
12:59PM ( 1 hour ago )
US employers added 173,000 jobs in August; unemployment rate falls to 7-year low of 5.1 pct.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a seven-year low in August as employers added a modest 173,000 jobs, a key piece of evidence for the Federal Reserve in deciding whether to raise i...
9:35AM ( 5 hours ago )
Sawnee EMC members elect two new board members
Members of two of Sawnee Electric Membership Corporation’s (Sawnee EMC) districts have elected new directors to represent them on the Cooperative’s Board of Directors.
By AccessWDUN staff
8:45AM ( 6 hours ago )
Asian stock markets ebb ahead of US jobs report, resumption of China trading
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Asian stock markets were mostly lower Friday as caution prevailed before the release of the monthly U.S. jobs report and the resumption of trading on Chinese stock markets ne...
11:21PM ( 15 hours ago )