Faced with the necessity, at least in practical politics if not in simple morality, of somehow addressing the receiving of gifts and goodies from lobbyists and others with seductive intentions the legislators have now managed to bog themselves down in the writing of ifs, ands, buts, except-fors and other exceptions and loopholes.
Let’s concede that anything resulting will be better than nothing, which is what exists now in an “anything goes” environment. Indeed the Senate already has adopted a purely cosmetic stand on the question that is more putting lipstick on a frog to call it a princess than anything else. At least the House version actually contains some quite positive elements that would, should the senators agree, caution the governing princes that the kissing of frogs should be done with care and close attention to the loopholes.
And there are lots of loopholes involved, although the Senate version was all loophole and no rope.
For example, as written by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, the proposal would still allow him and his family to accept a $17,000 jaunt to Europe to look at whoosh-whoosh trains (one assumes that is what magnetic levitation high-speed ones do instead of choo-choo). There’s a loophole for that even though it is the very thing that brought public attention, and howls for change, to the issue of ethics in Georgia government which now consists entirely of “trust us.”
In the interests of getting this done, as the voters in an informal opinion ballot shouted that they wished to have happen (87 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats) let the following substitute wording hereby be offered:
THAT’S IT, the whole thing, unless legislators wish to add a very modest increase to their per diem to help cover the added burden of chatting about important matters with a constituent supposedly exceptionally informed. That should be an amount that wouldn’t cover surf and turf but would handle meat loaf and mashed potatoes, a beer instead of 10-year-old Scotch. Or, if Ralston really believes model maglev trains in Germany are better examples than the one on a test track in the Atlanta metro, then the airfare, lodging and taking the family along would become his responsibility.
For those unfamiliar with the “go Dutch” thing, it simply means each party picks up their portion of the tab. It is considered a safety factor early in the dating sequence as some (males usually, but maybe times have really changed a lot more than imagined) if paying for dinner/movies were feared to expect a certain “payment” in return. That going Dutch approach erased any implied obligation or hint of seduction in the offing.
Come to think of it, isn’t that what the electorate hopes will come from all this? That their elected representatives won’t be seduced and remain pure?
Indeed, creating a workable ethics policy is so simple — as just demonstrated — that some rather strange and alarming side effects of the Ralston measure become even more worrisome.
As originally presented, the proposal would have made ordinary citizens, not in the employ or pay of special interests, register as lobbyists, now largely defined as being in the pay of somebody, and cough up the accompanying fee. This was originally $300 but since revised to $25, which is likely making all the paid lobbyists quite happy. It didn’t matter if such a citizen — including constituents from the home district — was representing themselves, a nonprofit, a noble principle with no monetary aspects. It was going to require paying to speak to one’s elected official.
ONCE THIS supposedly unintentional meaning was detected — by unpaid lobbyists known as citizens, journalists and similar — Ralston quickly backpedaled saying: “It was never my intent to make people pay a fee for people coming down here to see their own representative or own senator or if they come on a limited basis. Absolutely, that’s not the intent.”
This appears to prove once again that legislators quite routinely do not even read the bills that they have staff attorneys write for them so don’t know what proposed laws would actually do. Georgia is becoming quite well-known for putting a phrasing shotgun in its mouth, pulling the trigger and not expecting the courts to blow its head off.
Well, it is either that or, after seeing the poll results, Ralston’s reaction was: “You little people are starting to bother me and need to go away. So, take that!”
By the way, as of this writing, as currently revised this has been changed to read that a citizen can speak to their legislator five times in a year for absolutely free but upon the sixth they become a lobbyist and must register and pay. Does that include campaign contributors as well, or saying howdy while attending the same civic gathering?
Not only that but, on the sixth day, if a citizen were to tug on the legislator’s sleeve and say, “You know all this is crazy, don’t you?” then because they had failed to register to speak a possible fine of up to $10,000 could be imposed.
When the Tea Party and Common Cause join in opposition to all of this, branding it a “First Amendment tax,” one supposes that Ralston and vassals could boast of having successfully united diverse elements.
Besides not reading their own proposals, apparently many in the General Assembly appear to have never read the Georgia Constitution either. Such limitations on public contact with government types is unconstitutional on its face and twice over. The Tea Party and Common Cause are correct.
GEORGIA Constitution, Section I, Paragraph IX: “The people have the right to assemble peaceably for their common good and to apply by petition or remonstrance to those vested with the powers of government for redress of grievances.”
Remonstrance, whether done politely or in anger, is not limited to marching around the Gold Dome waving banners out of the legislator’s sight.
Georgia Constitution, Section II, Paragraph I: “All government, of right, originates with the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole. Public officers are the trustees and servants of the people and are at all times amenable to them.”
A dictionary definition of amenable: “ready or willing to answer, act, agree, or yield; open to influence, persuasion or advice.”
Which brings up a related issue neither addressed nor brought up. One of real problems regarding gifts of meals, tickets or whatever to legislators by employees of special interests is that it sops up time that elected representatives might otherwise spend talking to the mainly ordinary people who elected them and actually have minds, opinions and desires of their own.
Seriously, is it more likely that Mr./Ms. You Elected Me will agree to some face time, even just pick up the telephone, if Mr. Surf and Turf is calling than if probably 99 percent of our readers do? Not only that, it is the taxpayers who are paying for all of the time elected representatives spend on whatever issue is in question.
SURE, THEIR time is “precious” but how do any of them know, without allowing easy contact other than via the emails they likely don’t read, that a constituent doesn’t have a better idea?
You know, like: Go Dutch.