Lobbyist fined for $17,000 European trip with Ralston

8:04 PM, Jun 15, 2012   |    comments
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston
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ATLANTA -- The state Ethics Commission ordered a lobbyist to pay a $300 fine, fallout from a European trip he purchased for House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and his family in 2010.

The lobbyist, James Brady, agreed through his attorney to pay the fine. A complaint to the Ethics Commission claimed Brady wasn't properly registered as a lobbyist at the time of the trip.

Speaker Ralston was not fined. Under Georgia law, it's perfectly legal for a legislator to take a $17,000+ gift from a lobbyist. Ralston has said that the disclosure of lobbyist gifts allows voters to decide which lobbyist gifts are proper.

Brady represents the railroad industry. His attorney, Stefan Passantino, told reporters after the hearing that he wanted to show the speaker bullet trains, which operate only in Europe and Japan.

During the hearing, Passantino claimed that the trip to Europe with the Speaker wasn't a lobbying trip-- because there was no specific bill before the legislature. "He was... showing how technology can work on behalf of the state, but not on behalf of any legislation," Passantino said.

The commission seemed torn on the technicality, and actually voted to table the complaint before Passantino offered to pay a $300 fine to make the case go away. The commission accepted the offer.

"Out of fifty states, we're the worst state in the nation in terms of our ethics laws," said William Perry, director of Common Cause Georgia. "And it's because the Ethics Commission can't determine if a lobbyist is a lobbyist, when clearly paying for a $17,000 trip to Europe for the Speaker of the House is lobbying."

Numerous lawmakers and candidates have signed a pledge backed by Common Cause and Tea Party groups calling for a $100 cap on lobbyist gifts.  Voters in the July 31 primary will have an opportunity to answer an advisory question on lobbyist gifts.

In other business, commission staff said they hoped to resolve numerous complaints next month against the 2010 campaign of Gov. Nathan Deal. The commission also dismissed a complaint against former Gov. Roy Barnes, who refuted an allegation that he had lobbied the legislature without properly registering as a lobbyist.

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