Friday, July 20, 2012

The importance of saying “NO” to lobbyist contributions

Let me begin by saying this: I don’t think most lobbyists are bad people.

The truth of the matter is that lobbyists are some of the best informed people at the capitol and can play an important role in shedding light on problems in legislation.

So why then have I pledged to take zero contributions from lobbyists?

While lobbyists may be useful for staying informed in the Georgia General Assembly, I don’t believe it is the job of a legislator to represent lobbyists at the Gold Dome. A representative’s constituents should never have to wonder where their elected officials loyalties reside.

I don’t accept any contributions from lobbyists while running my campaign. When elected, I will refuse and refund lobbyist gifts.

It’s shocking to me that between January 1, 2012 and March 31, 2012 there were $866,747 in lobbyist gifts in Georgia. That’s $9,525 a day. Can we really expect everyone in government to be incorruptible by this practice?

How do we fix this problem?

One option being talked about right now is legislation that would limit lobbyist contributions to $100. On the surface, this seems like a step in the right direction.

The problem with such legislation is that it incentivizes a black market for lobbyist contributions. Legislating this issue will not change the culture, it will only drive the practice underground where we can no longer effectively see how Government is being influenced by lobbyist dollars. What we need is a shift in culture at the capitol.

This shift in culture is the responsibility of the voters. We need to elect candidates who will pledge to take zero lobbyist contributions.

Accountable Campaign Financing

One of the cornerstones in the Caldwell for House campaign is the manner in which we finance ourselves.

I have modeled my campaign financing in a way that keeps me accountable to the people. Aside from refusing contributions from lobbyists, there are several more measures I have taken to ensure I am kept accountable for my actions.

No contributions from out of state

In a recent debate my opponent said, “I have lived around the country, I have made a lot of friends, they don’t know the first thing about Georgia politics but I can tell you that they know I am honest, that I have a lot of integrity, and they believe in what I do here in the state of Georgia.”

If someone doesn’t know the first thing about Georgia politics, I don’t believe they should have a financial impact on its future. I have family who would love to donate but they live out of state and aside from an interest in me, they have no vested interest in the Georgia State Legislature.

No money from previous election cycles

I received a lot of strange looks in 2010 when I wrote all of my donors checks following the election. My 2010 campaign raised around $3,000 and spent about $1,800. After the election, I returned the remainder of the donations back to my supporters.

Just because I was the right choice for someone in 2010 does not mean that they will support me years later.

If it came to light that a candidate or elected official was misleading constituents, why would anyone want them using funds that they had donated to them in a previous election? How is that accountable?

No contributions from other campaigns

I do not believe that money raised by a campaign in District 71 should be used to finance a campaign in District 20. Yet it is common practice for elected officials to protect each other from opposition. All money raised in the Caldwell for House campaign will be used solely in our campaign for the 2012 election cycle.

Self-imposed gifting caps

There is a $2,500 contribution limit for campaigns in Georgia, but this limit does not apply to the candidate running for office. It would be perfectly acceptable by Georgia law for me to donate $100,000 to my own campaign.

I do not believe this practice holds me accountable to the voters. In a sense, it allows for a candidate to “buy” an election. Because of this, I have limited myself to donating $2,500 to my own campaign.

It starts in District 20

It is my hope that the Caldwell for House campaign can be used as a model for others in the state of Georgia. I have proven false the widely accepted idea of how a campaign must be run.

Already, there are several elected officials and candidates that have adopted similar measures and ideals to ensure they are held accountable for their actions at the capitol. We as Georgians can make it known that this is how a campaign should be financed. It starts in District 20.