Georgia senator pushes bill to stop in-session fundraising by new committees

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Lawmakers are considering legislation that would make it illegal for new leadership committees affiliated with candidates such as Gov. Brian Kemp to raise money during legislative sessions.

The campaign committees of statewide elected officials — such as Kemp — and lawmakers have been barred for more than three decades from raising money during legislative sessions, when they are passing bills and deciding how to spend state tax money.

Senate Bill 580 by Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Alpharetta, would add that prohibition for leadership committees, which the Republican leadership in the General Assembly created last year to help Kemp and House and Senate leaders.

“This is an attempt to put a guardrail up so there is not even an appearance” of money influencing what happens in the session Dolezal said Thursday during a Senate Ethics Committee hearing.

Decades ago, the General Assembly decided it looked bad for a governor or lawmaker to take a check at the same time he or she is considering legislation or funding that the donor may be trying to get approved or killed.

Old-timers at the Capitol remember when lobbyists seeking to pass legislation could go onto the legislative chamber floors or into anterooms and buttonhole lawmakers. The atmosphere was more freewheeling than today, although lobbyists still wine and dine lawmakers off-campus during sessions.

Back in the day, lawmakers regularly held fundraisers during the session.

Then last year, the General Assembly’s majority voted to create special committees for the governor, along with the opposing party’s eventual gubernatorial nominee and party caucuses, that could raise unlimited contributions, including during legislative sessions. Dolezal voted against the leadership committee bill, but most Republicans backed it while Democrats opposed it.

There are limits on how much a candidate can raise from an individual or business interest. There are none for leadership committees, so they can raise $10,000, $50,000, $100,000 or more from a donor. The committees can coordinate with candidate reelection campaigns as well.

Kemp’s leadership committee raised about $355,000 during the first month of the 2022 session. Reports on how much his and other leadership committees have raised since then won’t be available until later this year.

The House’s Republican political action committee has traditionally raised money during the session, but the Senate’s has not in recent years.

Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, a member of the ethics panel, said Dolezal’s measure is necessary.

“It’s not that we assume some of our members are unethical. We want to take the temptation away,” he said. “Sometimes we need guardrails to tamp down that temptation.”

The committee didn’t take a vote on the measure Thursday.