The Gift Ban: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Late last week, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston announced that in response to the overwhelming support for a cap on lobbyist spending, he will propose a “full ban” on lobbyist spending in the 2013 legislative session. I am extremely pleased that Speaker Ralston has changed his position and is willing to introduce a gift ban.

I’ve been asked numerous times since the story broke, “Do you think the Speaker is sincere about the lobbyist gift ban?”

Considering the overwhelming voter support – I hope he is.  Someone as politically astute as Ralston can’t walk away from an election where 87% of Republicans and 73% of Democrats voted to limit gift bans and think that he can continue with the status quo.

The second most frequent question I get is, “Do you think this is a legislative ploy?”

The fact people ask me this shows the level of cynicism toward government and the leaders who run it.   And can you blame them? After a $17,000 trip to Europe and repeating a mantra that says that transparency is enough and we don’t need a gift limit or consistently stating that limiting gifts from lobbyists would force lobbyist spending underground  – this sudden change of heart is a little suspect.

Don’t get me wrong, I greatly appreciate his words. His acknowledgement of the voters’ wishes helps move the conversation forward. His embrace of a full-on ban takes the initiative started by the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform of a $100 gift cap to an entirely different level. And we all know it will be a difficult fight to get a full ban on lobbyist gifts (despite the fact North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama have gift bans).  So if we end up with a cap instead of a ban, it will still be a tremendous milestone for Georgians and good government advocates. And, it will be a huge indicator of Ralston’s true political capital.

I’ve been told for the last 18 months that there is no way a cap or a ban will pass. And while I believe that elected officials fundamentally want to do the right thing for their constituents, I do understand that it is a lot to ask. The truth is the people who benefit from unlimited gifts are the same people who get to determine whether they stay or go — it is hard to believe they would bite the hand that feeds them.

Which is why this could be such a huge legacy for Ralston. Can you imagine if he is serious, what this could mean for Georgians?

We will know in the next six months if he is serious or not when the session starts in January. If only there was something he could do to show Georgians his true level of commitment to this issue. To signal to his fellow legislators that the time is now to respect the wishes of the hard-working electorate – most of whom do not get fancy perks for just doing their job.

Well is there?

Yes! Can you imagine if Speaker Ralston backed up his words with action? What would happen if effective immediately, he quit accepting lobbyists gifts. Not only would he show his colleagues he’s serious, he would prove to the voters that he is more than just another politician, just part of the status quo. If he is truly sincere about a gift ban, he can start right now.

Taking an action like this would be a monumental display of leadership on the issue.  We applaud his words, but this action would be deserving of an ovation. After all, actions speak louder than words.

So I issue you this challenge, Mr. Speaker, show that you are indeed sincere about your “full gift ban” proposal and begin turning down lobbyists gifts, effective immediately.

If he does so, you won’t have to wait six months for an answer about his sincerity, you’ll have the answer right away.

What say you, Mr. Speaker?

About William Perry

Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia
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