Georgia speaker now pushing for lobbyist gift ban

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ATLANTA - Georgia’s Speaker of the House has been the biggest roadblock of a law that would ban lobbyist gifts, but a sudden change of heart may pave the way for legislation.

Tea party members paired up with ethics watchdog group Common Cause to push for a gift ban for lawmakers in the last legislative session.  The law would cap gifts to lawmakers at $100.

Republican House Speaker David Ralston repeatedly said he was against the ban and favored more transparency saying the ban was a “gimmick” and that “they haven’t worked, they’ve driven a lot of contributions and those kinds of expenses underground."

Ralston’s change of opinion comes just two weeks after a nonbinding referendum in the Georgia primary that asked voters if lobbyist gifts should be capped. Almost nine out of 10 Republicans supported the cap and 73 percent of Democrats favored the measure.

William Perry, with Common Cause, said he’s pleased Ralston has changed his mind, even after receiving a $17,000 European trip for his family that was paid for by lobbyists.

"We welcome people reversing their position on it because they're responding to the voters," Perry told Channel 2 political reporter Lori Geary. "I think it would send a strong message that the speaker is serious about this issue if he stopped accepting gifts immediately."

Ralston was not available for an interview, but his office released a statement saying, "Speaker Ralston plans to call on a working group of state house members to craft a bill that implements a prohibition on lobbyist spending on legislators, rather than to cap this type of activity at an arbitrary amount as some have proposed.” 

Ralston's office told Geary the informal group will meet over the next few months to get the gift ban passed in the upcoming legislative session.