Lobbyist spending down, but is more reform needed?

Lobbying spending is down at the State Capitol following reforms passed in 2013, but ethics advocates are mulling whether it is time to further tighten the system.

“Now is an appropriate time to begin to have this discussion again,” said Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus. “People still feel — and I feel this way to a certain extent — that folks who have the capacity to hire lobbyists and spend a lot of money have a leg up on the average citizen.”

In 2013, lawmakers passed a bill capping lobbyist spending on gifts to public officials at $75. The new limits, which took effect in 2014, cut total spending by more than half, but lobbyists still spend an average of $770,000 annually, mostly feeding lawmakers during the legislative session.

McKoon said he thinks the Legislature should revisit the 2013 reforms to address some of the common “workarounds” lobbyists employ to evade the cap. One such workaround is that multiple lobbyists can cooperate on a single gifts, such as a pricey meal for a lawmaker and spouse, to exceed the $75 limit.

He also said he would like to see an expansion on the number of paid professionals who attempt to influence legislation but are not registered as lobbyists.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said he thinks the reforms have created a “change in the climate” at the Capitol.

“I think both members of the General Assembly and those in the lobbying community have adapted to the new law very well,” he said. “I think there has been improvement.”

Read more about the effects of the 2013 reforms and prospects for more changes at myajc.com here.

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