Georgia Senate offers $100 lobbying cap in plan
by Ray Henry
ATLANTA (AP) — Lobbyists would face a $100 spending limit when seeking to influence Georgia officials under a Senate plan released Thursday that tries to resolve political differences with House Speaker David Ralston.
Lawmakers in the General Assembly must soon decide which proposal, if any, to adopt if they want to end a system that allows unlimited lobbyist spending. Any bills not adopted by the end of the state's legislative session March 28 automatically fail for the year. The full Senate is expected to vote on the plan Friday.
The Senate Rules Committee voted Thursday to approve major changes to a plan earlier adopted by the House of Representatives. Sen. Jeff Mullis, chairman of the Rules Committee, said the law would apply to all levels of Georgia government, from city mayors to the governor.
Officials in governments that do not set their own rules on lobbyist spending would be prohibited from accepting lobbyist gifts. Under the Senate plan, governments could not allow their officials to accept more than $100 from lobbyists at a time, though lobbyists could make multiple expenditures in a single day.
"It has the potential to change the culture of the Capitol," said Sen. Cecil Staton, the Republican whip.
If adopted by the Senate, the plan will likely create conflict with leading House Republicans. Ralston earlier denounced spending caps as "gimmicks" earlier this year and supported a plan that would have prohibited lobbyist spending on individual lawmakers. But Ralston's plan left big exceptions, for example, allowing lobbyists to spend without limit on legislative committees, caucuses and delegations. Mullis said the Senate plan would eliminate those loopholes.
Another conflict remains over rules governing who must register as a lobbyist and publicly report their spending.
Ralston wanted to change the rules to require more people to register, including some volunteer lobbyists for nonprofit or small groups. Under Ralston's plan, people lobbying for free would have to register if they spent more than five days at the Statehouse seeking to influence state officials.
The Senate plan would keep the current rules. Currently, people must register as lobbyists if they are paid to lobby and spend more than 10 percent of their time seeking to influence officials. They must also register if they spend more than $1,000 annually on lobbying efforts.
If approved by the full Senate, the amended plan would return to the House for a vote.
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