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Lisa Borders: Was she lobbying illegally, or ‘only visiting friends’?
A state ethics investigation is trying to find out whether Lisa Borders (right), president of the Atlanta City Council, lobbied state legislators on behalf of her employer without registering as a lobbyist.
A complaint filed with the State Ethics Commission alleges that Borders, then a vice president of Cousins Properties, lobbied in 2007 for passage of the Georgia Smart Infrastructure Finance Act, commonly known as the “private-cities” bill.
Cousins Properties was part of a coalition pushing the bill, which would have allowed developers, with local government consent, to tax landowners in designated districts for roads, utilities and other infrastructure. The bill passed the Legislature, but Georgia voters in 2008 rejected a proposed constitutional amendment needed to put the law in effect.
Borders’ attorney has asked the Ethics Commission to dismiss the complaint because it did not prove any improper activity.
Borders, who is running for mayor of Atlanta, reiterated her innocence this week in an e-mail interview: “I did not lobby on behalf of any party for the Infrastructure Development District legislation during the 2007 state legislative session.”
Rick Thompson, executive secretary of the ethics commission, said the case is still in its investigative phase. The complaint was filed by Neill Herring, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club and other environmental interests.
Herring’s complaint says Borders was present when a House committee met on the bill in April 2007, and again nine days later, accompanied by lobbyists pushing the bill, when the full House of Representatives approved it.
Borders’ attorney, Mark H. Cohen, filed a written reponse that did not dispute that she was present when the bill was being considered. But, while Borders may have been standing with private-cities lobbyists, Cohen wrote, that doesn’t mean she was doing any lobbying herself.
Herring’s complaint noted, and Borders’ attorney emphasized, that she told someone at the time that she was “only visiting friends at the Capitol” and was not lobbying for the bill.
State law says people fitting the following description must register as lobbyists:
“Any natural person who, for compensation, either individually or as an employee of another person, undertakes to promote or oppose the passage of any legislation by the General Assembly, or any committee thereof, or the approval or veto of legislation by the Governor.”