ATLANTA — A state without limits on lobbyist spending would see restrictions under legislation passed Monday by House lawmakers.
Lawmakers voted 164-4 to adopt legislation from House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, that would generally prohibit lobbyists from spending money on individual officials in state government, including Georgia state lawmakers. The proposal, which has significant exceptions, now heads to the state Senate for consideration.
Though Ralston sponsored the bill, he was openly skeptical that the General Assembly had an actual problem with lobbyist spending.
“Sometimes real problems bring on the need for reform,” Ralston said, speaking on the House floor. “Other times it is the perception of problems that drive the discussion. Whatever the reason, it is an issue that we as elected officials must address and confront if we are to maintain the confidence of those who send us to this place to represent them.”
No lawmaker spoke against Ralston’s proposal, though four Republicans opposed it. Tea party and other government watchdog groups faulted the plan because it forces volunteers to register with the state if they lobby at the Statehouse for more than five days.
Rep. Michael Caldwell, R-Woodstock, said on Twitter that he voted against the plan because “it required unpaid citizens to register as professional lobbyists.” He declined to give an interview.
Ralston changed his stance during the monthslong debate. He originally defended the current system that requires lobbyists to disclose their spending but does not restrict it. Several events intervened. Ralston was criticized for allowing lobbyists to pay $17,000 to fly him, his family and staff to Europe in 2010. He first proposed a ban after roughly 81 percent of Georgia voters, more than 1 million people, voted this summer in favor of limiting lobbyist spending in nonbinding questions on the Republican and Democratic primary election ballots.
His plan would ban lobbyists from spending money on individual public officials, though it leaves significant loopholes.
For example, lobbyists could still pay for the travel expenses, lodging and food when lawmakers and their staff travel to events related to their duties. Lobbyists could not buy airfare.
Lobbyists could also pay for registration fees or dining expenses at events where committees, subcommittees or caucuses are invited.