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‘Dark money’ showdown looms at Capitol

The Georgia Senate Monday passed a bill to potentially forgive millions in fines owed by local politicians who failed to file their campaign finance reports with the state over several years.

House Bill 370 has been in the works for a couple of years, pitting the powerful city and council lobbyists against the state ethics commission. When those two sides worked an agreement earlier in the session, the bill seemed greased for passage, but it lacks an element that House Speaker David Ralston really wants.

Along with the fine-forgiveness provisions, HB 370 included provisions that would require certain political activists to disclose who funds their efforts. Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has wanted more sunlight on these non-lobbyists lobbyists for years, but activists claim what he really wants is to shut them up.

The House passed that version of the bill by a huge margin last year.

Perhaps because of the anger of activists — particularly conservative tea party types — the Senate stripped the so-called “dark money” provisions out of the bill in hopes of settling the fines issue before returning to their home districts to run for re-election.

February 8, 2013 - Atlanta, Ga: William Temple, of Brunswick, Ga., wearing revolutionary attire, argues with a man during the Georgia State Capitol Pro-Gun Rally at the main entrance to the Georgia State Capitol on Washington Street Friday morning in Atlanta, Ga., February 8, 2013. This group of around 150 people, rallied for the purpose to stand together peacefully in protest of the gun bans facing society. Openly carrying firearms was widely encouraged by protestors as it exercises their 1st and 2nd Amendment Rights. This was a nationwide rally. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

Tea party member William Temple of Brunswick seen at a 2013 rally at the Capitol. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, would like to know more about who funds the work of some of Georgia’s political activists. FILE PHOTO

Because the House and Senate versions of HB 370 differ, the House will have to decide whether to accept the Senate changes or work out the differences in a conference committee.

Ralston has indicated he would really like the regulation of activists put back in, but would he jeopardize the fines-forgiveness bill to get his way?

You can read more about the debate over dark money and free speech in the AJC Watchdog here.

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