Updated at 11:35 a.m.:
We heard from former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston on Tuesday morning. He said that “rum companies are not involved in what we are doing" and that it's unfair to draw a parallel between his lobbying efforts for the conservation trust Para la Naturaleza Inc. and spirit manufacturers.
“If the American Lung Association is lobbying to get part of the cigarette tax, that doesn’t mean that they’re lobbying on behalf of Philip Morris," he said.
Kingston said the move to lobby for a permanent rum tax cover-over is to help ensure a more steady funding stream for the endowment of the conservation trust's parent company, a nonprofit focused on preserving land in Puerto Rico.
"They can’t buy like a $100 million piece of property if they only get revenue on a yearly basis, so what they want is to be able to enter into large multiyear contracts, but they can’t do that if every year the tax is up for grabs – maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t," Kingston said of the trust.
Congress' stop-and-go action on tax breaks in recent years has given many companies that depend on such revenue heartburn.
Former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston’s first official lobbying gig has to do with booze. Rum, to be exact.
It’s very technical, and a full description of the tax break can be found here, courtesy of the Tax Foundation. Here’s a small shot of it, if you will:
“Rum, like all spirits, falls under a federal excise tax of $13.25 per proof-gallon. The federal tax revenue collected from rum produced in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or internationally is transferred to the governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands. This transfer of revenue from the United States back to the location of production is called a ‘cover-over.’
The connection between Para la Naturaleza and rum appears to be indirect. (The congressional disclosure documents are fairly bare bones, and Kingston didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.)
According to its website, Para la Naturaleza seeks to “protect lands of high ecological value” and unite people who value environmental sustainability in Puerto Rico while “pushing forward public policy for their protection.” It also wants one-third of Puerto Rico’s land to be protected by the government and private entities by 2033.
The organization's website includes no mention of sugar cane-based spirits, but the group's 2014 annual report indicates that it's a part of the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust. A Puerto Rican business news website called News is My Business reported that year that money from the rum tax contributes to the endowment of the PRCT.
Kingston has been at Squire Patton Boggs for more than a year, but he could not lobby his former colleagues until January under restrictions imposed by a George W. Bush-era law.
Over at our subscription site, we have House Speaker David Ralston admitting that the survival of local ordinances forbidding LGBT discrimination was a key focus of debate over a revamped HB 757, the "religious liberty" bill. Ralston says a judge would have to make the call, should Gov. Nathan Deal sign the legislation.
Ralston, in an interview for Georgia Public Broadcasting's "The Lawmakers" that will air at 7 p.m. today, also appeared to close the door on addressing specific concerns Deal has expressed about a measure passed by the Legislature to permit concealed weaponry on college campuses. “I consider the issue closed. I think it’s a good bill,” Ralston said.
On Monday, the House speaker also spoke to Denis O'Hayer of WABE (90.1FM). Ralston specifically addressed a threat by the National Football League to scuttle a Super Bowl in the new Atlanta Falcons stadium should the governor sign the religious liberty bill.
"I don’t tell them how to play football, and so maybe they need to let us do the legislating here. And I say that very respectfully," Ralston said. Because no one wants to purposely tick off Arthur Blank.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said that, given First Amendment protections, issues of religious liberty ought to be left up to Congress. Ralston had an answer for that, too. "I’m not optimistic about anything passing in this Congress now or for the foreseeable future, on any measure – not just this issue," he told O'Hayer in an extended portion of the interview.
That campus-carry legislation may have some unintended consequences in Macon. From the Telegraph:
A bill now before Gov. Nathan Deal could impact exactly where firearms can be carried at one of Macon's two airports.
State law currently allows firearms to be carried as far as security checkpoints at all Georgia airports, but the pending campus-carry bill may lift a restriction on another area at the Macon Downtown Airport.
Middle Georgia State University leases space there.
State Sen. Renee Unterman was excoriated last night on TBS' “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” for her stance blocking a measure that would require police to find and count rape kits.
“Woman, have you lost your mind?” Bee says in a cleaned-up quote as the Gwinnett Republican’s picture flashes on the screen. She calls Unterman's opposition "bewildering," describes her as a "ding dong" and questions why she doesn't have a challenger.
"Local elections are a lot like rape kits," she said at the close of the segment. "No one really wants to pay attention to them, but if you just bother to open them up, you might just get rid of someone who's been screwing everyone in town." You can find more about the story here.
Gov. Nathan Deal's hometown paper is praising him for "stalling the rush on 'God and guns' protection."
In a Sunday editorial, The Gainesville Times trumpeted his stance calling for changes to the "campus carry" legislation that would lift the ban on firearms at college campuses. And it backed his comments saying he would reject any "religious liberty" measure that amounted to legalized discrimination. From the Times:
Since both issues raise concerns, we applaud the governor for his prudent refusal to rush foolishly into laws that might open ugly cans of worms. Some call second-term leaders “lame ducks,” but that freedom from re-election often spawns wisdom rather than cave-ins to campaign interests. If only all elected officials were similarly inspired.
In fact, Deal is taking a more conservative stance than his party brethren under the Gold Dome. “Conservative” means to act with caution and discretion, to think things through carefully before jumping into massive changes. Funny how the meaning of that word has changed, and is embraced by many politicians who can’t wait to increase government’s power and influence over those it serves. Big government is bad, it seems, unless you’re in it.
Spotted attending Donald Trump’s D.C. strategy session Monday? Georgia’s own Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista.
The former House speaker and 2012 Republican presidential candidate declined to speak to reporters about the confab, but according to Jamie DuPree of WSB Radio, Gingrich was willing to grade the lunch fare.
Gingrich has repeatedly praised the New York billionaire on Twitter but has stopped short of an endorsement:
The former Georgia congressman also said nice things about Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
Gingrich last week called the efforts of anti-Trump conservatives such as Erick Erickson, the WSB radio talk show host, to stop the billionaire from securing the GOP nomination an “amusing parlor game.”
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