(The Center Square) — Georgia apparently has no wide-reaching regulation that bars lobbyists from serving as elected officials.
While there is no prohibition at the local level, the State Ethics Commission told The Center Square that elected state officials — statewide constitutional officers and General Assembly members — cannot be lobbyists.
“The Georgia Municipal Association does not track ‘public officials’ by private sector occupation and would not have a database of such a broad category,” the Georgia Municipal Association said in a statement to The Center Square.
“While GMA does not have a perspective on this, we believe advocacy is a part of public service,” the GMA added. “We agree that there is no law or statute that would prohibit a local elected official from employment as a lobbyist.”
Similarly, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia does not track information about how many elected officials are lobbyists.
“Lobbyists have no business holding political offices. Not only is it a conflict of interest, but it’s a direct line to corruption,” Amani Wells-Onyioha, a political strategist, told The Center Square via email. “They cannot serve the needs of their community while explicitly being on the payroll of the same corporations and causes that harm said communities.
“This is something we continue to struggle with in our government in general,” Wells-Onyioha, partner and operations director at Sole Strategies, added. “So many of our politicians are making decisions based on where their money is coming from rather than focusing on the needs of the people they serve. We need to find ways to reduce and remove this type of interference in government so voters can have more trust in the people representing them.”
John P. Pelissero, a senior scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and a professor emeritus of political science at Loyola University Chicago, told The Center Square the situation isn’t unique to Georgia.
“One of the ethical issues is this question of fairness. That’s one of the lenses we oftentimes use,” Pelissero said. “Can somebody who is a lobbyist fairly represent their constituents when one of their jobs is to try to get things from government — favorable legislation as an example — for their clients? That’s always going to be in conflict with the public interest. And public officials need a level of awareness, ethical awareness in particular, about how this appears to the public.
“It can breed some cynicism on the part of the public if they come to believe that, whether it’s happening or not, the lobbyist is using their position as a public official to take care of their lobbying business,” Pelissero added. “Trust is an important virtue to have operating between public officials and their constituents.
“And trust in government and its elected officials oftentimes erodes when you have these appearances of conflict of interest that make the public question whether the right outcomes are being served.”