It was a message that Ralston could not ignore: Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly voted for capping or eliminating lobbyist gifts in the non-binding votes. Statewide 80 percent of Democratic voters favored ending unlimited gifts from lobbyists to legislators, while 87 percent of Republican voters backed a $100 limit. The difference resulted from two different questions on the primary ballots.
Within days after the voters spoke, it was reported that Speaker Ralston plans to ban lobbyist gifts in next year’s session of the legislature. He was quoted by the AJC: “I have always said while I believe the current system is a good system because it does provide information and it’s open and transparent that if we didn’t have that system then a prohibition would be better than a cap, and I haven’t changed my mind.”
The Speaker also declared, “I’m committed from the House side to making sure we have real, serious ethics reform.” He said he will form an informal committee — which he did not explain or elaborate on — to study what other states have done about lobbyist gifts to legislators. There is plenty of material since all except three of the other states set limits or ban such gifts.
Heretofore, Ralston’s unyielding opposition has blocked efforts to cap or eliminate the indefensible sky’s-the-limit practice. He has dismissed the proposed $100 cap as a gimmick. But now he says he sees the light. If so, hooray for the citizens of Georgia. Still, if his position is that “a prohibition would be better than a cap” if the current practice is scrapped, why is a study committee needed? And will his plan be preempted by Senate Republican leaders who say they favor a $100 cap?
Let’s hope that Ralston does indeed push to prohibit lobbyist gifts, period. That’s the right thing to do. It would be a step toward shoring up the people’s trust in government and politicians — sinking to new lows with every poll. To the point, Gallup found in a December survey that members of Congress tied with lobbyists and car sales people when it comes to honesty and ethics. A woeful 7 percent rated the honesty and ethical standards of the three groups as high/very high — a point below telemarketers at 8 percent. That should be a wake-up call to every member of Congress and every other politician everywhere.
Now that Speaker Ralston has awakened, he can save time by taking Minnesota’s law as a model. It simply says: “A lobbyist or principal may not give a gift or request another to give a gift to an official. An official may not accept a gift from a lobbyist or principal.” That would remedy Georgia’s problem with lobbyist gifts, plain and simple, no ifs, ands or buts.