There are only three states that have no limit on the amount of gifts lobbyists can give to legislators, and Georgia is one of them. You heard it right, unlimited gifts.
A movement to put a $100 cap per legislator, per lobbyist, per day, is gaining steam. A non-binding poll is being placed on the July 31 Republican Primary Ballot. However, this poll will have no legal weight and will be more of a message to legislators about the will of the people. This is the second incarnation of the cap, the first being bills proposed in both the House and Senate. The bills died in committee, without gaining a single cosponsor.
Even if this measure became a bill, passed, and became law, the cap stills seems a little high. Allowing each legislator to eat multiple “free” lobster dinners every day seems a bit much. The more popular the legislator (the more lobbyists vying for favor) the more favors that can be accrued. The cap is better than nothing (they can’t buy him a new car at least) but it’s hard to say if this is a real reform or a token one. But if you look at the current amount being spent by lobbyists ($9,525 per day on average in the first quarter of 2012 according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution), this would definitely be an improvement. On the other hand, the act of public disclosure might be a better deterrent to corruption than an outright cap. If you know who is getting the big bucks, then you know who to watch out for, and maybe even vote out.
The question remains, how much is too much? It seems reasonable that a lobbyist, for example a manufacturer trying to open a new plant, should be allowed to take a legislator out to dinner while they explain their plans and why the legislator should support them, or is it? However, at what point does the financial might of the lobbying group become the focus of the evening?
A wonderful dance is playing out among Georgia Politicians. We are slowly finding out which politicians value the opinions of special interests (and their presents) and which favor the general public, most of whom, it seems, would like to see the gravy train capped. After all, it is the public that keeps these politicians in power, so siding with public opinion might be the only way to keep the gravy train flowing, even if it will have fewer cars on it. Whether this is political posturing or a genuine move toward ethical reform is yet to be seen.
Common Cause Ethics Reform: http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4847583
Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission: http://ethics.ga.gov/
Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform: http://georgiaethicsreform.com/