Moultrie Observer

Local News

August 13, 2012

Rep. Jay Powell backs gift ban

MOULTRIE — One of Colquitt County’s representatives in the Georgia House of Representatives favors a ban on gifts from lobbyists, even though he doesn’t think it’s necessary. Meanwhile, a new representative from the area is waiting for more informaiton before jumping on board

“I believe that the current status for reporting of all gifts from lobbyists is sufficient to allow people to determine for themselves whether there is undue influence by lobbyists on legislators,” said Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla.

However, he said, people’s perception is that the gifts are unrestricted, and that perception must be addressed.

“Perception is 90 percent of reality,” he said.

Sam Watson, who will become the county's other state representative in January, said he isn't opposed to tougher ethics laws, but he expects to know more about the proposal after a caucus meeting in a couple of weeks.

"The people obviously want tougher restrictions," said Watson, a Republican from Moultrie.

He said Speaker of the House David Ralston has announced plans to form a committee to study how other states that ban lobbyist gifts make that policy work.

Since Watson hasn’t yet taken office, he has no disclosures on file from lobbyists but sitting legislators do, and a searchable summary can be viewed online. Click here to visit the website.

According to that website, maintained by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, Powell has received 46 gifts in 2012, almost all for food and beverages. Four of the gifts were over $100:

• $116.14, pro rata share of dinner, from Jim E. Collins of the State Bar of Georgia.

• $431.63, lodging for the Spring Government Affairs Conference, from David Raynor of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

• $396, lodging, from Marcia Rubensohn of the Georgia Municipal Association — Interlocal Risk Management.

• $101.72, meals, from William G. Usry, representing the City of Bainbridge.

Rep. Penny Houston, R-Nashville, whose district includes part of Colquitt County until district lines change in January, received 45 gifts this year, almost all for food and/or beverages. The only one valued at more than $100 was a concert worth $125, paid for by Rebecca Chamberlin Ryles of RCR Captal Consulting LLC.

Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Albany, whose district also includes a portion of Colquitt County until January, received only nine gifts, all for food and/or beverages. Two of them were valued at slightly over $100 each; one was paid for by Deborah V. Bowie of the Albany Chamber of Commerce and the other by Monty M. Veazy of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals.

State Sen. John Bulloch has received 23 gifts this year, almost all for food and/or beverages. Eight of those came from William G. Usry of Usry Consulting Inc., an Albany firm. Two of the meals were valued at slightly over $100 each; both were paid for by Usry. Usry also bought Bulloch a $40 birthday cake.

The issue of legislative gifts was brought to the forefront last month when both the Republican and Democratic parties asked voters in the primary election whether such gifts should be limited. While each party phrased its question differently, voters in both parties voted overwhelmingly in favor of limits.

Those votes were cast in a non-binding referendum, but they nonetheless pushed Ralston to announce Saturday that he will propose banning lobbyists from giving gifts to state lawmakers.

Lobbyists can now spend as much as they want to influence Georgia's state lawmakers as long as they disclose that spending in public reports, the Associated Press reported Saturday. Ralston, the top Republican in the House, said he supports the current disclosure rules and has opposed legislation that would have limited — though not banned — lobbyist spending on lawmakers. He called lobbying caps a “gimmick” on Saturday and said they could be abused. He said he planned to introduce the measure banning gifts outright when the General Assembly reconvenes next year.

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