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Gift ban would hit government lobbyists hardest
A proposed ban on $100-plus gifts to Georgia legislators would put the biggest hurt on lobbyists for two particular clients — both agencies of state government.
The University System of Georgia last year doled out $16,216 in football and other tickets to state officials, an Atlanta Unfiltered analysis of lobbyists’ spending reports shows. (Another $7,000-plus in free tickets were valued at less than the $100 threshold.) Led by lobbyist Dene Herbert Sheheane, the University System gave out more tickets to sporting events last year than any other special interest at the Capitol.
The biggest winners were Rep. Keith Heard and Sen. Ralph Hudgens. Each received a $1,300-plus package of tickets, transportation, lodging and meals to a bowl game. (They presumably attended the Jan. 1 Capitol One Bowl in Orlando, where Georgia beat Michigan State, but we’ll be sure to get back to you if the two Athens-area legislators went to Georgia Tech’s bowl game instead).
The second most-generous giver was the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, whose lobbyists handed out $12,123 in big tickets to Georgia legislators, the analysis shows. Most were for Atlanta Falcons games, but the SEC college football championship, ACC basketball, motocross and Monster Jam truck competitions were also in the mix.
Overall, lobbyists gave out more than $80,000 in big tickets to Georgia lawmakers and other officials last year. The University System and World Congress Center were responsible for more than one-third of that total. Each gave more than the other big spenders — Georgia Power Co., AT&T and AGL Resources.
Admission to sporting events and concerts is the most common gratuity that would be prohibited under an ethics bill introduced by Rep. Wendell Willard, the lobbyists’ reports show. Willard’s bill would bar lobbyists from giving anything worth more than $100 to “public officers,” which includes elected officials, state department heads and members of state boards and commissions.
Lobbyists reported giving out more than $1.2 million in such gifts last year. The vast majority of those gifts were meals for legislative committees or other groups of officials, where no single person received a benefit of more than $100, and which therefore would be unaffected by the ban.
Willard’s bill would not make it illegal for legislators to accept gifts worth more than $100, just for lobbyists to give them.
Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver has introduced a competing bill that would ban gifts valued at more than $25 and make it illegal to accept them.
Neither bill would require legislators to accept lobbyists’ gifts. That way, lawmakers would be allowed to say no when lobbyists come calling.
COMING TOMORROW: Meet the legislators who just cain’t say no.