GSB Vol. 11, No. 4 - #2. Georgia's New Ethics Laws - A Summary of the Changes Relevant to Lobbysists and Legislators.

AuthorBy J. Randolph Evans and Douglas Chalmers Jr.

Georgia Bar Journal

Volume 11.

GSB Vol. 11, No. 4 - #2.

Georgia's New Ethics Laws - A Summary of the Changes Relevant to Lobbysists and Legislators

Georgia State Bar JournalVol. 11, No. 4, December 2005"Georgia's New Ethics Laws - A Summary of the Changes Relevant to Lobbysists and Legislators"By J. Randolph Evans and Douglas Chalmers Jr.Enacting comprehensive ethics reform is never an easy process, and ethics reform in Georgia was certainly no exception. Legislatures - putting it mildly - do not like to regulate themselves. They assume honest and hardworking elected officials will ordinarily do the right thing and legalistic rules only serve as opportunities for partisan political traps. The easiest solution has always been to change a few meaningless words, call it ethics reform, and then claim a huge win. Real ethics reform requires much more. On May 6, 2005, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed House Bill 48,1 which substantially overhauled Georgia's Ethics in Government Act (the Act).2 The changes go into effect on Jan. 9, 2006, and will be seen and felt by everyone involved. This article reviews the changes to Georgia's ethics laws that will apply to lobbyists and legislators in the upcoming 2006 session of the General Assembly.


Increased Disclosure Obligations

The disclosure obligations in the revised act will be strengthened in three key areas: lobbyist disclosures, personal financial disclosure statements, and campaign contribution disclosure reports.

Lobbyist Disclosures

First, significant changes were made to the law governing lobbyist registration and disclosure of lobbyist expenditures. The most significant change in the lobbyist rules is the expansion of the definition of the word "lobbyist" to include individuals who attempt to influence the awarding of state contracts to vendors (vendor lobbyists), as well as individuals who attempt to influence the adoption of agency rules and regulations (regulatory lobbyists). At the state level, the Act currently regulates only the activities of lobbyists who attempt to influence the passage or defeat of legislation (legislative lobbyists).3 Until now, the law has not regulated the conduct of vendor lobbyists or regulatory lobbyists. This has left a significant gap in Georgia's regulatory and disclosure scheme. On Oct. 1, 2003, in an attempt to address this issue, Gov. Perdue issued an executive order requiring certain agencies to adopt rules and regulations requiring registration of, and disclosures related to, vendor lobbyists.4 The governor's executive order was a worthwhile attempt to require such lobbyists to register and file disclosure reports. The scope of the order was necessarily limited, however, by the powers granted to the governor's office. It was quickly recognized that legislation was also needed. The new version of the Act essentially codifies the principles outlined in the governor's previous executive order. In short, the Act now provides that vendor lobbyists and regulatory lobbyists are "lobbyists" under the Act,5 and as such these individuals are now required to register with the State Ethics Commission (the Commission) and file disclosure reports in the same manner as are legislative lobbyists. These two additions are a significant improvement in Georgia's disclosure scheme for lobbying activities. It should be noted that the revised Act defines the term "state agency" to exclude political subdivisions of the state and any instrumentalities thereof.6 Thus, the Act's regulation of vendor lobbyists is limited to lobbyists who attempt to facilitate the awarding of state contracts. The Act does not regulate the conduct of lobbyists who attempt to influence the issuance of contracts by counties, cities, municipalities or other political subdivisions of the state. In addition, the law has been revised to require additional disclosures on lobbying registration and disclosure forms. Each lobbyist must disclose, on his or her registration application, the identity of each client that has agreed to pay the lobbyist an amount exceeding $10,000 in a calendar year.7 Lobbyists must also now classify their spending by category, including such categories as gifts, meals, entertainment, etc.8 Legislative lobbyists have long been required to list the number of the pending bill, resolution, ordinance or regulation on which they are working. The revisions to the Act track this requirement by requiring regulatory lobbyists to identify the rule or regulation which they have been retained to influence.9 These lobbyists are also required to disclose the name of the individual or entity on whose behalf they have undertaken to influence the rule or regulation.10 Similarly, vendor lobbyists must identify on their registration applications the name of the state agency before which they will be lobbying. 11 Vendor lobbyists must also provide (a) the name of the vendor( s) they are representing, (b) a description of the contract(s) being sought, and (c) the monetary amount of the contract(s).12 The revisions to the Act also confirm that the reporting obligations imposed by the Act on vendor lobbyists are cumulative of the obligations already imposed on vendors by Section 45-1-6 of the Georgia Code.13 That statute currently provides that any vendor who makes a gift to public employees exceeding $250 in a calendar year must file a report disclosing such gifts. Such reports must still be filed. One reporting requirement for lobbyists was eliminated. Under the revised Act, a lobbyist need not disclose the names of any immediate family member (i.e., spouse and children) of any public officer who is employed by, or whose professional services are paid for by, the lobbyist. This provision, Section 21-5-73(d)(2), was removed from the Act.

Personal Financial Disclosure Statements

The revised Act has also significantly increases the obligations of candidates and public officials to disclose personal financial information. 14 In addition, the revised Act expands the scope of the reporting obligation to public officials who were not previously required to file such reports. For the first time, a candidate or public official must disclose (a) real property owned by his or her spouse; (b) his or her own occupation and employer, as well as the principal business activity of the employer; (c) his or her spouse's occupation and employer, and the principal business activity of that employer; and (d) the names of his or her dependent children.15 In addition, certain of the existing disclosure requirements were tightened. For example, candidates and public officials must now disclose an ownership interest in any business that exceeds $10,000 or 5 percent of the interests in the business; these thresholds were previously $20,000 and 10 percent, respectively.16 Further, if the spouse or dependent children of a candidate or public official has a direct ownership interest in any...

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