State News

February 23, 2013

Lobbyist spending down 1 month after new Ga. rule

ATLANTA (AP) — Lobbyists spent about a third less money on Georgia’s state senators in the month after the chamber imposed limits, though it remains unclear whether the new rule alone can be credited for the change.

An analysis of spending by The Associated Press shows that lobbyists spent more than $91,300 on Senate lawmakers in the one-month period after the Senate passed its rule on Jan. 14, a decrease of roughly 35 percent compared with the same period last year. The spending tally includes lobbyist expenditures on individual state senators, groups of senators and events open to all lawmakers in the General Assembly.

The new Senate rule, adopted the first day of the session, generally prohibits state senators from accepting lobbyist gifts worth more than $100, though it leaves exceptions. The AP’s review showed that the number of lobbyist expenditures worth more than $100 in the Senate dropped to 86 during the first month of the session, down from a total of 153 during the same period last year.

Spending tallies derived from lobbyist reports should be viewed as broad indicators, not exact sums. Lobbyists self-report their spending, and reports are rarely audited for accuracy. Mistakes in the reports or variations in the spelling of a politician’s name or title can throw off automated calculations. Despite those limitations, the math shows that spending is down.

State Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus, called the new rule “the No. 1 driving force” in the drop in spending. “Certainly I think the passage of the rule is contributing to an overall change of culture, which is really what we’re after,” said McKoon, a leading proponent of limiting lobbyist spending.

Other factors may be at work, too, including public attitude. Last summer, roughly 81 percent of Georgia voters voted in favor of limiting lobbyist expenditures in nonbinding questions on the Republican and Democratic primary election ballots.

Also last year, Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, was fined $5,000 for illegally accepting pay for in-state official work and travel on some days when lobbyists reported wining and dining him out of state. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, ran into criticism after a lobbyist paid $17,000 in 2010 to take him, his family and two others on a trip to Europe. Both Balfour and Ralston won re-election.

Ralston, who criticizes the Senate prohibitions as weak, has proposed his own prohibition on lobbyist spending on individual lawmakers. His plan, too, has exceptions to the basic rule.

“More and more you’re seeing those who are either reducing or not accepting gifts, and it’s had an effect on the behavior of the lobbyists,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, one of several organizations backing limits on lobbyist spending.

No senator appears to have violated the new Senate rule in the month since it took effect. But several received gifts just before the tighter limits took hold.

The University System of Georgia reported on Jan. 1 spending $1,365 to send Sen. Frank Ginn to the Capitol One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Ginn said he refunded the money after the Senate passed its new rule. The day before the Senate rule took effect, Sen. Tyler Harper accepted a $158 ticket to a Falcons game, according to lobbyist reports. Harper said he had intended to pay for the ticket and reimbursed the sponsor after the game.

Lobbyists can still get around the rule. They can pay as much as they want to send senators on junkets if the events are tied to a lawmaker’s official duties.

And the $100 limit does not apply to events where all state lawmakers or members of committees or caucuses are invited. For example, a lobbyist for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Georgia reported paying roughly $370 as part of a dinner for the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.

A lack of detail on the lobbyist reports makes it difficult to verify whether the new rules are strictly observed. Mercer University paid nearly $900 as part of annual meal for Senate leaders, though it did not list how many lawmakers were there. Mercer spokesman Larry Brumley said about 20 people attended the meal, though he did not have an exact count.

“I would doubt very seriously if there was any danger of anyone going anywhere near that limit,” he said of the $100 per-legislator cap.  

 

1
Text Only
State News
  • One charged in death of Dalton woman, another sought

    A Dalton woman found dead in Calhoun earlier this month is believed to have died of a drug overdose after two Calhoun residents abandoned her in a car behind the VFW on East Line Street, Lt. Tony Pyle with the Calhoun Police Department said Wednesday afternoon.

    June 18, 2014

  • Guard shot at FedEx center to undergo 14th surgery

    A security guard critically wounded when a gunman went on a rampage at a FedEx facility is scheduled to undergo his 14th operation Tuesday.

    May 27, 2014

  • Arson ruled out as cause of chemical plant fire

    Police say investigators have been able to rule out arson or foul play as the cause of a massive fire at a chemical plant outside Atlanta that spewed black smoke and flames visible for miles.

    May 27, 2014

  • Teen tied to shopping cart drowns in lake

    Georgia Department of Natural Resources officials say a teen has died after being tied to a shopping cart and pushed into Lake Allatoona.

    May 25, 2014

  • Underground tattoo artists frustrate officials

    The work of tattoo artists whose living rooms double as body art studios might come cheap, but experts say the unsterile -- and illegal -- work environments could leave clients in pain long after the initial sting of the needle subsides.

    May 25, 2014

  • No runoff lets Republicans focus on Rep. Barrow

    While Georgia Republicans have to wait until July to settle runoff races for the U.S. Senate and three open House seats, one of the biggest GOP victories in the primary elections last week went to Augusta businessman Rick W. Allen.

    May 25, 2014

  • Audit probes juvenile justice turnover rate

    A state audit cites low pay, long hours and management concerns as reasons for a relatively high turnover rate at the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

    May 25, 2014

  • Atlanta schools ex-tech director to be sentenced

    After his relationship with the superintendent of Atlanta’s school system soured, a former technology director for the district set up a kickback scheme to pad his pockets before he left his job, according to court documents.

    May 24, 2014

  • Georgia veteran, 92, honored at surprise ceremony

    Family and friends surprised a 92-year-old World War II veteran from Georgia on Memorial Day by honoring him and presenting him with the World War II Victory Medal.

    May 24, 2014

  • Police: Massive chemical plant fire extinguished

    Authorities say a massive fire at a chemical plant outside Atlanta that spewed black smoke and flames visible for miles has been extinguished.

    May 24, 2014