Editorial: 82% VOTE ‘YES’ for Gift Caps

Lobbyist Gift Limits and Pledge Supporting Candidates pull off huge victories

Georgia is one of only three states that has absolutely no limit on lobbyist gifts to legislators.  If voter sentiment is important to members of the legislature, this should change early next year.

There is no doubt about it; Georgians want a cap on lobbyist gifts. The primary election results show that voters in both parties overwhelmingly support an end to unlimited lobbyist gift giving to legislators. Voters also showed support for candidates who signed the gift cap pledge, a commitment that, if elected, they will co-sponsor legislation to institute a $100 lobbyist gift cap. Over 1.2 million Georgia voters answered “yes” when asked if the practice of unlimited gifts should end.

State Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, the first of 131 legislative candidates to pledge lead the charge.  On election night he said “the election results both in the ethics referendum and candidates running for office on an ethics platform sent an unmistakable message – Georgians want an end to the ‘anything goes’ culture at the Capitol. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make Georgia a leader in ethics in government.”

Several races featured ethics as a key issue where pledge signers defeated their opponents. In District 109 (parts of Henry, Newton, and Rockdale counties) Dale Rutledge (R) soundly defeated incumbent Rep. Steve Davis (R) with 65% of the vote going to Rutledge. In the Athens area Regina Quick (R-117) defeated incumbent Rep. Doug McKillip (R) by sixty four votes after being heavily outspent by the opposition. Also in the Athens area, Spencer Frye (D-118) defeated ten term incumbent Rep. Keith Heard with 55% of the vote going to Frye. John Pezold (R-133) from LaGrange defeated incumbent Rep. Kip Smith (R) 52% of the vote going to Pezold. In newly drawn district 180 (including parts of Camden and Charlton) there was a surprise incumbent victory for Rep. Jason Spencer (R) over challenger Adam Jacobson (R) with Spencer receiving 52% of the vote.

These victories will send shock waves through the Capitol.  House candidates in competitive primaries made a strong stand and put the priorities of their voters over the desire of the House leadership to maintain their unlimited gift-receiving legislative lifestyle.  Pledge signing candidates won, defeating leadership favored candidates who sided with limitless gifts from lobbyists.

In House Speaker David Ralston’s district alone, 86% of primary voters, over 11,500 people, want a limit on lobbyist gift giving.

The final election results show:

On the Republican ballot, 87.22% voted “yes”, 12.78% voted “no” to the question: “Do you support ending the current practice of unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators by imposing a $100 cap on such gifts?”

On the Democratic ballot, 72.32% voted “yes”, 27.68% voted “no” to the question: “Do you support ending current practice permitting unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators?”

Overall, 1,228,334 or 82% Georgians voted “yes” while only 277,982 or 18% voted “no”.

These results give undisputed evidence to support the argument for gift caps. The House leadership has been opposed to gift caps. Last session, leadership prevented comprehensive ethics reform bills in each chamber from making it out of committee. The primary question results, accompanied with strong public pressure from organizations like Common Cause Georgia and the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, will make it very difficult to prevent gift caps from becoming law during the next legislative session.

About William Perry

Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia
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