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Area lawmakers support idea of lobbying reforms
State lawmakers representing Glynn and surrounding counties say they agree or generally agree with Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

They, too, believe in setting a cap on gifts from lobbyists.

"It is my understanding that the House leadership is currently working on such legislation, and I applaud their efforts," said Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island. "I will certainly support and vote for caps."

Ralston said he will propose banning lobbyist gifts to state lawmakers when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. His announcement follows overwhelming public support for such action. On a nonbinding question on Republican and Democratic ballots July 31, more than 81 percent of voters -- or more than 1 million people -- favored limiting what lobbyists can spend on state lawmakers.

The question on Democratic ballots asked voters whether they supported some sort of limit, while Republicans were asked whether they would favor a $100 cap.

The way the rules are written now, lobbyists can spend as much as they want on state lawmakers so long as lobbyists disclose the spending in public reports.

Until recently, Ralston had pooh-poohed an effort to establish lobbying limits, calling it a gimmick and saying he favored the current system of disclosure. He also said the push for lobbying caps was driven by liberals and media elites.

Grassroots citizen groups like Common Cause have been calling for caps for some time.

Atwood said he's been for doing something all along.

"Since first being elected two years ago, it has been my personal policy to limit lobbyist spending so as not to violate the caps as proposed and endorsed by Common Cause and the other advocates of this legislation," Atwood said. "I thought it was the right thing to do when I was first elected, and I know it is the right thing to do now. I believe it will go a long way toward restoring trust in government."

Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, favors prohibiting the acceptance of any gift.

"My belief on this issue is consistent with the voters, which is that most voters feel like gifts can be seen as a bribe," Spencer said. "A complete prohibition of lobbyist gifts is my preference, and I am glad to see (Speaker Ralston) take a bold position. This is admirable, and it will change the culture in Atlanta. A total prohibition on gifts makes clear in no uncertain terms what is acceptable."

Rep.-elect Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, says with or without a ban, legislators should just say no when offered gifts.

"The best way to deal with it is just don't accept any gifts from lobbyists," Chapman said. "If you go to meet with them, pay your own way."

He says it's a policy that should be the law of the land in Georgia.

"Let's make it across the board. Let's raise the standards," he said. "Make those appointed or elected to public office or to service the people pay their own way. They are making public decisions for the people."

He said a complete ban would eliminate any suspicion of favoritism. Chapman said he feels voters would have supported a zero cap had the question been posed that way on the ballot.

Sen. William Ligon, R-Waverly, said he is supportive of caps but would like to study the legislation before committing his support.

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