published Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Ethics panel will hear complaint against lobbyist over Ralston trip

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    House Speaker David Ralston, addresses the media after the Senate voted to undo ex-Gov. Sonny Perdue's veto of a budget overhaul bill at the Georgia Capital, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ATLANTA — A Georgia ethics panel has agreed to investigate a complaint against a Washington-area lobbyist who paid for House Speaker David Ralston’s $17,000 trip to Europe over Thanksgiving, according to a news release.

William Perry, executive director of watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, said in the release that the group received confirmation late Tuesday that its complaint against James Christopher Brady of Commonwealth Research Associates will be investigated by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

Brady paid to send Ralston and his family, along with Ralston’s chief of staff and his wife, to Europe to inspect high-speed and mag-lev trains.

Common Cause said in its complaint that Brady was not registered as a lobbyist in Georgia in 2010, and that the expenditure was not disclosed by the required deadline of Jan. 5, 2011. The complaint points out that the trip was not made public until after the election for Speaker of the House, which occurred on Jan. 11, 2011.

“It is our hope that this investigation will shed further light on the purpose of the trip and the reasons for the clear violations of the Ethics in Government Act. We believe the Act should be amended to ban such luxury expenditures by lobbyists,” Perry said in the release.

The investigating commission has given Brady 30 days to respond.

Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, said when the trip was disclosed in late January the trip helped him understand how European nations have merged rail and roads with commercial development. He said he took his family with him because the Nov. 21-27 trip coincided with Thanksgiving.

“I wanted to be with my family during Thanksgiving week and that was the only week I could go due to my schedule,” Ralston said. “I wanted to be with my wife and kids. I don’t apologize for that.”

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