Moultrie Observer

Opinion

February 8, 2013

Violation of free speech

MOULTRIE — Dear editor:

H.B. 142, commonly known as the "Ethics Reform Bill", is a bill proposed for the purpose of limiting lobbyist gifts and ensuring accurate reporting to the public. In simplified terms, the proposed law defines lobbyists, bans most types of gifts from lobbyists, and sets out stringent reporting requirements for lobbyists so that the citizens know what highly paid lobbyists are influencing their legislators. So far, so good. But it gets bad.

The proposed law requires that any citizen who influences a legislator regarding legislation is a lobbyist subject to a fee of over $300 and stringent reporting requirements. This has few exceptions. In effect, these provisions take every Georgian's First Amendment Constitutional Right to petition their government officials and throws it out the window. The proposed law requires that private, unpaid citizens who would never consider themselves "lobbyists" must pay over $300 and subject themselves to stringent reporting requirements and bureaucracy if they wish to communicate or even "influence" any elected official other than one from their own House or Senate district.

In practical terms, that means if you, as a concerned citizen, really want a bill to pass or fail, and its passage depends on a Senate or House member from a neighboring district, you either pay over $300 and register as a lobbyist just to be able to communicate with them, or you better keep your mouth shut and let the legislature pass whatever they want without your input.

I have seen reports of the proponents of the legislation stating that the bill will likely be revised. While that may be a good idea,  damage has already been done. As an attorney, I am sure I am more capable than many at reading and understanding legislation, but am certainly not as good at it as those people who hold elected office. That said, it took me less than 30 minutes to read and understand the proposed 13 page bill, and less than 5 minutes more to realize how bad it is for free speech and good governance. The first words from the people who proposed the bill should have been: "I'm sorry, we didn't read it, and we will fix it." Instead, they defended it as an attempt at ethics reform. If it was truly an honest attempt at ethics reform, the legislators would have talked to the private concerned citizens who wanted reform instead of writing a bill that prohibits communication with private concerned citizens who want reform.

Unless it was sincerely proposed out of ignorance, the only logical reason for this bill being proposed and defended in its current form is to intentionally enrage citizens and grassroots activists so that they will eventually agree to some sort of lukewarm compromise on ethics reform, one that allows elected officials to keep receiving expense paid trips. This is unacceptable. This poorly conceived law, though only sponsored by 6 legislators (including House Speaker David Ralston), has hurt the faith of many Georgians in their government and in the Republican Party.  Republicans hold a majority of the State House, State Senate, and all Constitutional Offices in this state and have the opportunity to show transparent, ethical, honest leadership and to actually listen to the citizens. That is the type of leadership that Georgians expect and deserve and that the Republican Party has an obligation to provide. If we fail to provide such leadership, it won't be long until someone else will.

Jordan "Alex" Johnson

(2010 Republican Nominee for State Senate in District 41 and Current Candidate for Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party and can be contacted at unityalex@bellsouth.net)

Catherine Bernard

(2012 Republican National Convention Delegate from Georgia and Current Candidate for First Vice-Chair of the Georgia Republican Party and can be contacted at c.scott.bernard@gmail.com.)

 

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