"They didn't give lobbying gift caps a hearing this year," said Georgia state Sen. Josh McKoon in a speech to LaGrange College. "But they did have a hearing about whether foreign tilapia should be allowed in Georgia ponds." By giving a cold shoulder to limits on lobbying gifts, the state received the lowest ranking in public corruption laws in independent studies.
Georgia ranks last in public corruption laws
The Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, as well Public Radio International, found Georgia was ranked dead last in public corruption laws, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week.
Georgia officials loudly denounced the scores, blaming the scorekeepers and their methodology. But they only have themselves to blame for the crisis by ignoring McKoon's ethics bill.
The Peach State is one of only three states without limits on lobbyist gifts
As McKoon told the audience of more than 70 students and members of the community, only Georgia, South Dakota and Indiana do not have limits on gifts that lobbyists can give to legislators. He told stories about how lobbyists provided all-expense paid trips to legislators. "We want to end unlimited giving. A lobbyist can give the keys to a car to a politician. How can you trust the government when that happens?"
Just having a law is not enough, if the law doesn't have enough teeth. McKoon also talked about how lobbyists in Florida have found ways around ethics laws, donating to parties which provide a credit card of sorts to party members in office. It shows the importance of not passing a watered-down bill through the legislature.
McKoon's bill (SB 391) caps lobbying gifts at $100, with no more than $750 travel. But it didn't get very far in the Peach State's narrow legislative session in the Spring of 2012. "There was a lot of resistance to introduce it," the state senator added. "Certain folks don't want change on this issue.
The price of supporting ethics reform in Georgia
The ethics bill sponsor told about how the legislation was quashed.
"They told me we didn't have time to discuss it, so it didn't get a hearing. Yet we had time to debate daylight savings time, whether hunting rifles could have silencers, and whether foreign tilapia would be allowed in private Georgia ponds."
McKoon promised to bring it up again at the next legislative session, assuming he's still around.
"I'm told that I will get a primary opponent as a result of this bill," McKoon told the students and members of the community. It's happened before when McCain-Feingold was passed. Senator Feingold was defeated in his reelection bid in 2010, while Senator John McCain was primaried, nearly losing his seat in the process. But if Georgia doesn't want a black eye on corruption studies, they should consider McKoon's bill, instead of getting rid of him.