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We all want tax credits, but who are THESE guys?


A blog about public records …

A friend texted me last week, pointing out an AJC article about a proposal to give insurance companies up to $125 million in state tax credits, packaged as a tool for job creation:

“Dying to know who inv firms are they have lined up. Any way to know?”

I had no clue, but I like challenges like that.

Where to start? I knew nothing about the certified capital companies, or CAPCOs, that would invest the insurance companies’ money to get the tax credits. The AJC story identified Rep. Ben Harbin as the sponsor of a CAPCO bill this year.  In a late procedural maneuver, I discovered, Harbin tacked all of his bill’s language onto another bill that had already cleared the Senate. Plus, Harbin was licensed as an insurance agent as recently as 2009.

So, I wondered, who’s been buying Ben dinner?

The state ethics commission maintains an online database of lobbyists’ spending reports. A quick search there shows lobbyists dropped $6,015 on wining and dining Harbin so far this year. (That’s a lot, particularly since Harbin is no longer a committee chairman.)

State law requires lobbyists to disclose what bill they’re discussing when they spend money on a legislator, but most never do. It’s like Voldemort: If you don’t say the name out loud, it doesn’t count. (BTW, you have to download your search results into a spreadsheet to see info on the relevant bill. The ethics website doesn’t tell you that.)

In Harbin’s case, none reported Harbin’s bill, HB298, as a topic of dinnertime conversation. But one – Regan Marsh of Troutman Sanders – listed HB398, a Fulton County pension bill that should have no interest for Harbin. A typo, perhaps?

A closer look shows Marsh’s clients include Advantage Capital Partners LLC and Enhanced Capital Partners. Neither firm is registered with the Georgia secretary of state, but a little Google searching shows both are active in CAPCO investing in the handful of states that allow it.

Who else have Advantage Capital’s lobbyists been schmoozing with? House Speaker David Ralston, House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour, the House and Senate GOP leadership and assorted members of both chambers’ insurance committees. The company spent $1,540 for wining, dining (and a couple concert tickets for Balfour).

So what does this tell us? Well, we know at least some of the investment firms that are pushing the CAPCO bill, and how much their lobbyists spent and on whom.

But this exercise also demonstrates that Georgia lawmakers, while ostensibly committed to transparency, haven’t done nearly enough to inform the public about the special interests.

I took 15 or 20 minutes, using my knowledge of disclosure laws and a little guesswork, to track this information down. In a transparent process, those investment firms’ lobbyists would have to report exactly what their clients want to influence and disclose that information every time they take a legislator to dinner. Those reports would be linked online to the bill in question, and the whole package of information would be just one mouse-click away.

Until that happens, all this talk about transparency is just talk.

Got a question about public records in Georgia and how to get them? Drop us a line and we’ll see if we can help.





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2 Responses to “We all want tax credits, but who are THESE guys?”

  1. Michele says:

    Jim, that is the problem with most politrickans, they are serving their own interest instead the of the interest of the people as a whole. When are the people going to stand up and demand more and hold them accountable. We have people in office making laws against the very people they represent which is reprehensible and all in the name of the $. Greed and I hope it implode on them real soon.

  2. Jim McMullan says:

    Many Ga Tax Commissioners use TBS/Harris to process and print local tax bills. When asked to provide public tax info, TBS/Harris rep declined because ‘they are not the custodian of the data’. If not the custodian then how do they process those thousands of tax bills? Has the AG Sam Olens made any determination about TBS/Harris’ exemption from the Ga Open Records requirements?