Georgia Watch urges lawmakers to beef up ethics reform

ATLANTA – Georgia Watch is urging the state legislature to pass meaningful ethics reform. The current bill does not restrict lobbyists from giving gifts to legislators. In fact, it specifically exempts lobbyists from having to disclose the “reimbursement or payment of actual and reasonable expenses for food, beverages, travel, transportation, lodging, registration and other related activities for a meeting which is provided to a public officer to permit such public officer’s participation in such meeting.”

“Under the current ethics proposal, a lobbyist could legally buy a legislator a first class trip to the tropics including airfare, accommodations at the Ritz Carlton, and room service – and it would not have to be disclosed. The people of Georgia deserve better than that,” said Angela Speir Phelps, Executive Director of Georgia Watch.

House Bill 920, which was introduced in January by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), would have placed monetary limits on gifts that public officials can receive from lobbyists. That bill was signed by over 40 House members, including members from both parties and an independent.

However, House leaders instead decided to use Senate Bill 17 as the vehicle for ethics reform. The current version of SB 17 does not include a limit on gifts to elected officials, thereby leaving the door wide open for moneyed special interests to continue to provide gratuities to those elected to serve the people.

“It’s hard for the voice of the little guy to be heard over the din created by unrestricted gifts from special interests,” Phelps said. “If the legislature wants to substantively change the culture in state politics then they should do the right thing and clamp down on practices that are questionable at best.”

SB 17 is awaiting action in the House Rules Committee, which will decide when to send it to the floor for a vote. After that, the House changes will need to be approved by the Senate.