House Speaker David Ralston said he will propose banning lobbyist gifts to state lawmakers when the General Assembly reconvenes next year, a decision that comes after residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of setting limits in nonbinding referendums.
Lobbyists can currently spend as much as they want to influence Georgia's state lawmakers so long as lobbyists disclose that spending in public reports. Until recently, Ralston had criticized a push to create lobbying limits as a gimmick and said he instead favored the current system of disclosure. He also said the push for lobbying caps was driven by liberals and media elites.
"I have always said while I believe the current system is a good system because it does provide information and it's open and transparent that if we didn't have that system then a prohibition would be better than a cap, and I haven't changed my mind," Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Republican leader said he planned to create an informal committee to study how other states ban lobbyist gifts when the General Assembly reconvenes next year. Ralston said his intention is to pass legislation early in the session, which starts in January.
More than 81 percent of Georgia voters - or more than 1 million people - voted in favor of 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.
Ralston told the newspaper that he believes voters have spoken on the issue.
"I'm committed from the House side to making sure we have real, serious ethics reform," he said.
William Perry, the executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about Ralston's announcement. Common Cause was part of a coalition that pushed unsuccessfully this year for a $100 cap on lobbyist spending.
"It's a pleasant surprise and a move I would absolutely applaud and welcome the speaker's change of heart on the issue and hope he's really committed to moving it forward," Perry said.
House and Senate leaders may need to resolve differing proposals to actually pass a bill. Ralston's proposal differs from one put forward by state Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus, who has said he will re-introduce legislation to cap - not ban - lobbyist spending next year. McKoon has said he favors banning lobbyists from spending more than $100 daily on any individual lawmaker. Republican leaders buried one of McKoon's proposals to cap lobbyist spending in the Senate Rules Committee this year, and it failed without ever receiving a vote.
Since then, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour, President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers have publicly promised to support a cap on lobbyist spending.