published Friday, January 13th, 2012

Group pushes ethics reform at Georgia Legislature

ATLANTA (AP) — An activist group announced Thursday they are pushing for tougher ethics reform to level the playing field among lawmakers, citizens and lobbyists and are urging Georgia voters to do the same.

The Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform is proposing legislation to cap lobbyist spending on lawmakers at $100 and ban public officials and their family members from serving on the state ethics board or holding government contracts. Among other suggested changes are restoring the agency’s name to the State Ethics Commission.

“People like myself, I’m not paid,” said Georgia Tea Party Patriots President Julianne Thompson. “It’s naove on the part of any person that would say there aren’t legislators who are not influenced by these lobbyist gifts.”

Ethics reform became a high-profile issue at the state Capitol after a scandal involving former House Speaker Glenn Richardson that ultimately led to his ouster in 2009.

State Rep. Tommy Smith says he’s willing to sponsor the bill this session and is looking for co-sponsors on the bill. The 32-year veteran of the Legislature said lobbyists do have an advantage over voters at the Gold Dome, and that he has seen the influence that money has.

He hopes to file it in the next week or so.

“In the area of ethics reform, we want to see Georgia become a model for the rest of the nation,” said Smith, a Nicholls Republican. “I commend the changes that have already been made. We took some steps in the right direction, but I want to carry the process even further and ensure that in the future, legislation that gets passed is based on its merit, not on what lobbyist may be in support of it.”

In the Senate, Columbus Republican Josh McKoon has offered to push the legislation. He said Georgians deserve an honest government they can believe in.

“There’s a gap between those of us making the laws and those of us who put us here,” McKoon said. “It’s a gap of trust created because there is a system where there is no limit on what lobbyists can give legislators. Can’t we agree there is a certain point at which we can say no more?”

The ethics bill passed in 2010 increased fees and fines for lobbyists and legislators who break the law, required many local elected officials to file campaign disclosure reports with the state ethics commission, prohibits sexual harassment and required lobbyists to report every two weeks what they’re spending to influence Georgia elected officials and the policies they make.

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