Common Cause’s William Perry and Bob Irvin battle it out against Maury Litwack in this war of words on whether we need new laws limiting lobbyist gifts to legislators. Below is a redaction from Common Cause’s position that we do need new reforms.
What is undisputed, even after you read the opposing position, is that lobbyists do in fact have too much access and influence on legislators. The opposition seemingly suggests that legislators just regulate themselves, and that “bad apples” will exist regardless of our regulatory efforts.
Well, forgive us if we put some faith into the laws of our State, and the people’s desire to see legislators do all it can to uphold the public’s interest, not their own.
We’re not trying to eliminate ordinary business meetings to discuss legislation. We’re trying to end free product samplers, Super Bowl tickets, golf weekends, fishing and hunting expeditions, and overseas “fact finding” trips that are all just junkets in disguise. We want to cut them off because they’re corrupting. Perhaps not in the narrow sense of bribery…[r]ather, they are corrupting in more subtle and important ways. While most officials recognize and reject bribes, they can easily succumb to and tolerate other forms of corruption without even thinking of it as such.
The first is special friendship, which is a much more powerful corrupter than money. When you become an elected official or staff member, you find that many lobbyists want to be your friend. Gifts and pleasant time spent together are ways of making special friends. Lobbyists very likely don’t even want anything specific at the time. They just want to be your friend, so that when needed, they can call on that friendship to help sway your decision. The average citizen doesn’t have that advantage.
The second is the “legislative lifestyle.” Officials and staffs who live high on the hog simply because they are in public life tend to get out of touch with life as average citizens. Their way of looking at things becomes shaped by their own privileged experiences, not by the real world. That, too, is corrupting, because hanging onto that “lifestyle” by staying in office — whatever it takes — becomes paramount. In a republic, they should live like the rest of us, including paying for things with money they have earned.
Some officials say that disclosure alone is enough. We’re for disclosure, and we believe that it should be extended to officials’ families and their staff, who are not currently covered by the law. But disclosure alone is not enough. If it were, even bribery itself should be legal, as long as it is disclosed. Some things should just plain be illegal. Moreover, disclosure delayed can effectively be disclosure denied.
Other officials say a cap would cause lobbyist to go underground. We shouldn’t make a law because people might break it? We don’t say that about laws limiting the speed of cars, or even murder. Sure, people will still speed, a few will still murder, but we don’t say, “Let’s not have a law because if we do, people will still break it.”
This shouldn’t be controversial. Other states, including Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, severely limit lobbyist gifts. The people of Georgia don’t like lobbyist gifts, either, and it’s time to stop them.