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How did your legislator spend summer vacation?
By JIM WALLS
Aug. 19, 2009 — A four-day jaunt to sunny Southern California. Braves games, concerts, golf and charter boat excursions. Weekends at Amelia Island, Sandestin and Biloxi.
You and I have to pay for summer diversions like these. But public disclosures show lobbyists treated your Georgia legislators to all this and more, just since May 1.
Lobbyists dropped more than $193,000 cozying up to lawmakers in May, June and July, even though legislators went home for the year on April 3, disclosures at the State Ethics Commission show.
It was all business last month when Reps. Mark Burkhalter, Jan Jones, Mark Hamilton and Jon Burns traveled to Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, Cal., said Tom Lewis, lobbyist for Georgia State University.
“No golf, no beaches, no nothing else,” Lewis said. “This was pretty much a cut-and-dried educational trip.”
The legislators toured the university’s 9-year-old Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy at Mount Wilson, founded by Georgia State professor Hal McAlister. The six-telescope array there measures stars’ size, distance and luminosity, examines their surface features and searches for new planetary systems.
It was an opportunity “to go up on Mount Wilson and … see what’s beamed back to Georgia State classrooms in astronomy and physics,” Lewis said.
Astronomers can’t do much observing during daylight, so the delegation toured the Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan libraries to pass the time.
All but Jones brought their spouses, Lewis said. Legislators paid their own airfare, he said, and the Georgia State University Foundation paid their other expenses — roughly $4,100.
“Not one dime of state money paid for their trip,” he said.
Back East, most of the lobbyist spending related to travel and outdoor activities. Legislators wined and dined this summer at conventions in Biloxi, Miss., several Florida beach destinations, Jekyll Island and St. Simons.
Meals alone accounted for about $80,000 of the legislators’ tab. Other expenses included:
– Lodging, $25,829
— Baseball games, $7,355
— Golf, $4,648
— Concert and theatre tickets, $1,959
Some lobbyists took their show on the road, plunking down at least $13,000 — primarily for meals and Phillies tickets — on Georgia delegates to the National Conference of State Legislators last month in Philadelphia. The biggest spender: The Georgia Hospital Association, which paid $2,456 for airfare, lodging and meals for state Rep. Mickey Channell (R-Greensboro), who chairs the Health Appropriations subcommittee on health.
Overall, lobbyists have reported spending more than $612,000 on lawmakers so far this year.
EXTRA CREDIT (if you’ve made it this far): You never know what you’ll unearth in these online disclosures. Reports show one legislator in 2009 accepted lobbyist-paid dinners with both his wife and his girlfriend (consumed on separate occasions, we presume). This could be a reporting error or some sort of misunderstanding, of course. Nevertheless, the first reader to track down the legislator’s name wins something cool (we haven’t decided what yet). Send your entry to: firstname.lastname@example.org.