Loopholes abound in some lobbyist gift bans

By Chris Joyner The Atlanta Journal-Constitution A proposal to ban lobbyist gifts to state…

Georgia (Oct 15, 2012) — By Chris Joyner

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http://www.ajc.com/news/news/loopholes-abound-in-some-lobbyist-gift-bans/nScjt/

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A proposal to ban lobbyist gifts to state officials sounds pretty straightforward to most voters.

“B-A-N. It means none,” said Gordon Jones, a retired executive who lives in north DeKalb County.

“Nothing whatsoever,” said Jane Jones, his wife.

The Joneses are talking about eliminating gifts like these: In 2010, a lobbyist spent $17,000 to take House Speaker David Ralston, his family and staff to Europe to learn about high-speed trains. This summer, House Ways and Means Chairman Mickey Channell spent much of June at Florida resorts with lobbyists picking up the bill in exchange for his attendance at industry conferences. Every year, the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce spends more than $80,000 on a seafood feast for the entire Legislature.

But all of these perks could remain legal if Georgia legislators follow the example of other states, where loopholes are often written into the legislation. Ralston, who proposed the Georgia ban, declined to discuss how strict the ban might be. The AJC’s review of bans in other states finds that such laws often don’t go as far as voters might expect.  

Consider California, where lobbyists can’t take an official out to dinner, but the lobbyist’s employer can. Or Arizona, where lobbyists exploited a loophole in the law for years to send powerful state legislators to out-of-state football games. Or Iowa, whose $3 gift cap didn’t stop the state’s education chief from attending an expenses-paid conference in Brazil.

Alabama’s gift ban, on the other hand, has changed the way state leaders do business, a key ethics official said.

The proposed ban in Georgia is expected to come up in the legislative session that begins in three months.  

Robert Smith, chairman of the political science department at Kennesaw State University and an expert on legislative ethics, said voters expect a gift ban to effectively end special interest gifts to legislators. But there likely has to be some flexibility built in, he said.

“If you buy me a cup of coffee at a Starbucks, I guess I’m not sure this would influence me to take a stance one way or another,” he said. “But if you are flying me to a football game … well, gee, that just doesn’t look right. I think that truly is at the heart of what the lobbyists caps or bans are supposed to be.” 


 

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu

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