March 30, 2010

Want to speak with your legislator? $320 please!

Posted by Inger Ebernart at 10:04 am - Email the author   Print This Post Print This Post  

The Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, David Ralston, introduced ethics reform legislation in response to a scandal involving the former Speaker Glenn Richardson. To make a very long story short, Richardson had an affair with an Atlanta Gas Light lobbyist in 2006 while the company was seeking approval to build a $300 million pipeline across the state. He denied the allegations and was re-elected Speaker of the House in 2007. Fast forward to 2008. The former Speaker’s ex-wife filed for divorce because of allegations of spousal abuse, mental illness and adultery. In November 2009, Richardson attempted suicide due to “depression.”

According to the current Speaker, this is why HB1473 was crafted. The bill expands the powers of the State Ethics Commission (& renames it), imposes burdensome fines, expands ethics investigations to all public officials, etc. The bill, at 38 pages, is much too lengthy to go into detail here, so I’ll highlight those things that may affect you immediately & directly:

Section 19 is the section that “sticks it to” those “evil” lobbyists:

* You cannot lobby your legislator unless you register as a lobbyist. So, if you would like to continually speak to your legislator about an issue of concern to you, you must be a registered lobbyist.

* To register as a lobbyist, you must pay $320 ($300 for the registration & $20 for the badge).
* If you file your lobbyist report late, there is the potential to be fined up to $10,000.
* Lobbyist reports must be filed every 15 days instead of every 30 days.
* If you, as a volunteer lobbyist, are successful in your lobbying endeavors, “no person, firm, corporation or association shall retain or employ you for compensation.”
* Lobbyists cannot “initiate contact with a Senator or Rep while the body is in session or attending a committee or subcommittee meeting.”

Speaker Ralston has kicked the “Regular Joe” out of the Capitol by charging $320 speaking fees on behalf of the legislators (btw, legislators can only charge $100 in speaking fees), enacted guidelines on when & how to communicate with those you elected to represent you and told business who they can and cannot hire.

Our Republican-controlled House leadership seems to be optioning a tactic from the Obama playbook of centralized government control and power.