Lobbying reform: what’s gone down, what’s up next

With the 2013 legislative session ending this Thursday, the Georgia Senate last week gutted the House’s attempt at lobbying reform. Senators on Friday passed House Bill 142, but their version didn’t look much like the House Bill 142 that cleared the House last month. The House version calls for a ban on lobbying gifts — meals, football tickets, golf outings and the like — with some big exceptions. The Senate wants a $100 cap on the value of such gifts, with fewer exceptions.

Dead or alive?
The bill’s vital signs are declining, but there’s still evidence of brain activity. The Senate’s action probably insures that debate will go to the wire. And the gulf between the two versions may be so vast that lobbying reform won’t pass this year.

What happens now
The two versions of HB 142 are likely to go to a House-Senate conference committee, in which three representatives and three senators seek to compromise on a single version of the bill.
They send their compromise bill to each house for more debate and a vote.
Someone has to blink: Either the House gives up its proposed ban, or the Senate gives up its proposed cap.

Possible outcomes
The conference committee can’t reach a compromise. The bill dies for the year.
If the conferees do produce a bill, one or both houses may reject it. It dies for the year.
Both houses vote yes on the compromise version. The bill passes.

Lobbying reform milestones
MARCH 7, 2012: A bill to impose a cap of $100 on lobbying gifts to state officials dies in the House Rules Committee.
MAY 26, 2012: As of today, 46 state lawmakers and candidates have signed a pledge that they’ll cosponsor legislation imposing a $100 cap on lobbyist gifts in 2013. The pledge is the project of the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform, a coalition of Common Cause, tea party groups and others.
JULY 31, 2012: Voters in both parties overwhelmingly support lobbying reform in straw polls on their primary ballots. House Speaker David Ralston, who has long argued that it doesn’t matter how much lobbyists give to legislators if the gifts are publicly disclosed, is rethinking that position.
AUG. 10, 2012: Repeating his opposition to a proposed cap on lobbyist gifts – he says it’s a gimmick – Ralston announces that he will pursue an outright ban on them in the 2013 session.
SEPT. 9, 2012: The AJC reports that lobbyists reported spending more than $80,000 during the summer taking state lawmakers to resort conventions, mostly along the beaches of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
DEC. 13, 2012: With the next legislative session a month out, the ethics reform alliance is optimistic about winning a cap on lobbyist gifts. “After getting beat up for so long we’re going for broke,” says Common Cause President William Perry.
JAN. 15, 2013: On the opening day of the 2013 session, the Senate adopts a new rule that imposes a $100 cap on lobbyist gifts to its members. The rule does not have the force of law, but senators are required to observe it. Senators celebrate, saying they have set the standard for reform.
JAN. 29, 2013: Ralston unveils his proposal to ban lobbyist gifts, saying, “It’s going to be a different way of doing business around here, no question.”
FEB. 25, 2013: The House passes Ralston’s ban by a vote of 164-4 and sends it to the Senate.
MARCH 22, 2013: The Senate passes a much different bill, which removes key provisions of Ralston’s bill including the ban and instead imposes a cap of $100 per gift.

Comparing the House and Senate versions

House: Banned
Senate: Subject to a $100 cap per instance or less.*

House: Lobbyists can spend unlimited sums on committees, caucuses, other recognized groups.
Senate: The $100 cap per official applies to all group spending.

House: Banned with limited exceptions.
Senate: Allowed but limited to $100 value.

House: Allowed with limitations. Must be related to “official duties.” May not include airfare, travel expenses for spouse or recreational costs.
Senate: Allowed with limitations. Must be within U.S., lobbyists may not pay for spouse or staff, must be within “official duties.”

House: Expands registration to unpaid advocates representing an organization on a legislative matter for at least five days. Would remove all costs of registration.
Senate: Makes virtually no change to existing law. Volunteers do not need to register.

* The Senate version requires public bodies to adopt public rules setting a cap of no more than $100 on lobbyist gifts. If no rule is adopted, a total ban on gifts takes effect.

Compiled by Richard Halicks, Kristina Torres and Chris Joyner

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.