Common Cause Georgia Makes Progress on Pay-to-Play Reform

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(APN) ATLANTA — Just over a year since the Board of Commissioners of Fulton County rejected pay-to-play reform, and just a few months since Mayor Kasim Reed bashed the notion of pay-to-play reform during remarks before the City Council of Atlanta, Common Cause Georgia and its ethics reform partners have made great strides in gaining support for pay-to-play reform, both from State legislators and from citizens.

CCG is a non-profit, non-partisan citizens’ lobby organization that seeks ethical, honest, and accountable government.  Pay-to-play reform is generally reform that limits the campaign contributions that existing or prospective contractors can give to elected officials.

This year, toward the end of the 2012 Legislative Session and during the Primary Election cycle, CCG joined with the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, Georgia Conservatives in Action, and Georgia Tea Party Patriots, to create a Lobbyist Gift Cap Pledge.

The pledge stated, “I pledge, if elected, to co-sponsor a bill during the 2013 legislative session to limit each lobbyist gift to $100.  The proposed legislation will add the following language to a new section of the Ethics in Government Act, Chapter 5 of Title 21 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated: ‘It shall be unlawful for a lobbyist to make a gift to a public officer where the value of the gift is more than $100.00.’”

“One of the first accomplishments this year was the pledge,” William Perry, Executive Director of CCG, told APN.  The pledge was signed by 131 candidates for the Georgia legislature, including numerous Democratic and Republican incumbents.

Incumbents in the State Senate who signed the pledge include State Sens. Josh McKoon (R), Donzella James (D), Nan Orrock (D), Vincent Fort (D), Tommie Williams (R), Steve Henson (D), Don Balfour (R), Judson Hill (R), Chip Rogers (R), Tim Golden (R), Gloria Butler (D), Johnny Grant (R), Gail Davenport (D), Valencia Seay (D), Ronnie Chance (R), Cecil Stanton (R), Curt Thompson (D), Horacena Tate (D), and Ed Harbison (D).

Incumbents in the State House who supported the Pledge include State Reps. Mark Hatfield (R),  Mary Margaret Oliver (D), Margaret Kaiser (D), Jason Spencer (R), Tommy Smith (R), Tyrone Brooks (D), Robert Bryant, Sr. (D), Stacey Evans (D), Rick Crawford (D), Scott Holcomb (D),
Karla Drenner (D), Debbie Buckner (D), Judy Manning (R), Barbara Massey Reece (D), and Pedro Marin (D).

Perry also discussed the success of this past July 31, 2012 Primary Election which put party questions forth to measure the opinions of partisan Primary voters, on both the Democratic and Republican ballots.  

73 percent of Democrats voted yes to the question, “Do you support ending the current practice permitting unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators?”

And 87 percent of Republicans voted yes to the question, “Do you support ending the current practice of unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators by imposing a $100 cap on such gifts?”

CCG and other groups supporting pay-to-play reform took a statewide bus tour the week before the July 31 primary elections.  The Ethics Express tour hit Augusta, Savannah, Macon, Columbus, Albany, Valdosta, Brunswick, Gainesville, Dalton, Blue Ridge, and Waycross, Georgia.

Georgia is only one of three states that has no limit on the amount of gifts a lobbyist can give to a legislator, according to CCG.

On August 17, 2011, Fulton County rejected a pay-to-play reform proposal in a two to four vote.  Commissioners Emma Darnell (District 5) and Bill Edwards (District 7) supported the proposal.  Commissioners John Eaves (District 1), Liz Hausmann (District 3), Tom Lowe (District 4), and Joan Garner (District 6) voted no.

Pay-to-play reform started becoming a major issue following harsh public criticism of CCG by Mayor Kasim Reed for suggesting that the City of Atlanta should enact pay-to-play reform.

During this criticism, Reed said there was no need for reform and noted that not a single jurisdiction in the State of Georgia had enacted pay-to-play reform; although now, this may be about to change, starting at the State level.

The July 31 results are a strong rebuke to Reed and to the four Commissioners who voted no– Eaves, Hausmann, Lowe, and Garner–that their words and their votes and not in line with the wishes of Georgia voters.

“Campaign contributions have no place in how government conducts in [sic] business on behalf of citizens,” CCG states on its website, noting a history of controversy surrounding the procurement process for contracts at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

All of the recent recipients of major concessions contracts at the airport were major campaign contributors, and in some cases, friends, of Mayor Reed, as previously reported by APN.

To date, no Councilmember has chosen to introduce pay-to-play reform, although APN’s News Editor has also called for reform at the City of Atlanta, including as part of a list of procurement reform proposals that were presented to the Transportation Cmte of the City Council.

“We aren’t [proposing] limiting the contributions of all companies, just those that that want a contract,” Perry noted.

After years of inaction, in August of this year Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said he would introduce a complete lobbyist gift ban, as opposed to a cap, in the next legislative session.

According to a press release, CCG and the other groups support Ralston’s ban, but they plan to continue with their current proposal of a cap, which they believe is more likely to pass.

Debbie Dooley of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots is a supporter of pay-to-play reform.

“This is a very good idea.  As seen in July’s vote, citizens don’t trust elected officials.  It is extremely important that voters trust our officials and the issues surrounding the airport concessions has caused many disappointed voters.  Public perception and confidence is very important,” Dooley told APN.

(END/2012)

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