House speaker proposes total gift ban

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ATLANTA - House Speaker David Ralston proposed legislation that would ban lobbyists from spending on individual elected officials in Georgia, but critics were quick to point out there are potential loopholes.

The Republican filed his proposal Monday, saying it's essential that the state legislature maintain the public's trust.

“Food and beverages, whether it's a cup of coffee, a cold beer or a steak dinner, may be provided only at events in which all members of the General Assembly have been invited,” Ralston said.

Ralston said his legislation would restore the rulemaking authority of the state's ethics commission and require that more people officially register as lobbyists.

Republican state Rep. Josh McKoon told Channel 2’s Lori Geary that he has found a lot of ways around the proposed spending limit.

“If you look at it, a lot of activity would be allowed,” McKoon said.

McKoon and others said the measure is unconstitutional because the speaker wants to further define a lobbyist.

“This is like taking a piece of tape and putting it across my mouth,” said citizen activist Kay Godwin. Godwin doesn’t get paid to lobby but would be required to pay a $300 fee to go in front of a city council or talk to a lawmaker under Ralston’s plan.

“Because I’m asking you to act ethically, you want to silence me by charging me $300?” activist Catherine Davis said.

“I don’t know what the problem with registering is. You know, just register. Just be a lobbyist,” Ralston responded.

Right now, lobbyists can spend as much as they want to influence lawmakers and other officials as long as the lobbyists disclose that spending. There are no spending limits.

The state Senate earlier this year passed a weak internal rule prohibiting gifts worth more than $100. Ralston called the move a gimmick and said his bill is real ethics reform.