Don’t look now, but I think you are beginning to have some impact on the issue of unlimited lobbying expenditures in the Legislature.
Our politicians seem none too happy about having to derail their gravy train. They have tried to ignore you (and me) or, when necessary, explain to us in the most condescending manner the fact that just because they get to take expense-paid trips to fancy resorts (or Germany), or get free meals whenever they want, or sit in private boxes at sporting events that you and I could never hope to see courtesy of lizard-loafered lobbyists — none of this has any influence on the decisions they make.
Do they think we are that dumb? Of course these perks influence the legislators’ decisions. Why else would lizard-loafered lobbyists spend the money on them?
Despite their high-minded protestations, we are beginning to see some cracks in the ice. Right off the bat, newly-minted Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, introduced Senate rules to limit gifts to $100 to “appropriately address concerns about lobbyist gifts.” The new rule has a lot of holes in it. For instance, lobbyists can give multiple gifts that are $100 or less and still pay for travel and a number of other expenses.
Granted, this is not a giant leap for mankind, but it is one small step in the right direction. The new majority leader, Sen. Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone, said, “We have listened not only to our colleagues, but also the citizens of Georgia.” Without your hell-raising, I’m not sure even this much would have happened, although his staff reminded me that Shafer co-sponsored legislation in 2004 to limit gifts.
It will be interesting to see what transpires in the House. Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has been summarily dismissing your concerns on burping and slurping at the lobbyists’ trough by suggesting we go to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission to see for ourselves what lizard-loafered lobbyists spend on him and his colleagues.
Despite being an extraordinarily unfriendly website to maneuver, I took Ralston up on his offer and began reporting to you the details of his high life, courtesy of lizard-loafered lobbyists, including trips, ballgames, dinners, neckties and baked cakes. For reasons I can’t explain, his burping and slurping stopped suddenly in August. Go figure.
Ralston said he plans to introduce legislation that would ban items given by lobbyists and broaden the definition of a lobbyist. He told one newspaper, “We’ve got a lot of people running around this capitol that should be registered lobbyists wearing badges because they’re advocating for one side of an issue or another, and they’re not registered.”
Veteran political observer and Marietta Daily Journal columnist Don McKee asked a fair question: “Is the speaker going after unpaid volunteers from your neighborhood exercising their constitutional right to speak their minds to their elected legislators? Reading between the lines, it sounds suspiciously like Ralston may take the approach that if voters want to limit lobbyist gifts to legislators, then he will define anybody advocating for anything or against anything at the capitol as a lobbyist.”
It sounds like petulance to me.
Even Gov. Nathan Deal got into the act. In his State of the State address, he veered off into the lobbying issue by intoning “There will always be those in the media and elsewhere who thrive on sowing the seeds of doubt and distrust and who will never recant their sinister innuendos and malicious accusations even when they are vanquished by truth.”
Publicly blaming the media and those pushing for lobbying limits is designed to provide legislators the cover to do what they don’t want to do, but are going to have to do. By the way, that overly dramatic line was written for the governor by his crack communications experts, who are to good media relations what Elmer Fudd is to rabbit hunting.
Our public servants are having a hard time accepting the fact that you want the situation regarding unlimited gifts to legislators by lobbyists changed, and there is nothing they can do but accede to your wishes or get booted out of office. As a member of the media sowing seeds of doubt, I am happy to be on your team.
You can reach Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.