March 7, 2011 — Beginning today, lobbying takes on a whole new meaning in Georgia. In essence, anyone who’s seeking to influence legislation now must file papers as a lobbyist if they’re being paid while doing so. That includes corporate executives or school teachers visiting the Capitol, or witnesses at legislative hearings. Patrick Millsaps, chairman of the State Campaign Finance Commission, warned: “I think we are coming dangerously close to putting up barriers to prevent people from petitioning their government.”
Business executives pushing a bill in the Legislature would still have to register as lobbyists even if they’re not expressly paid to do so, under a proposed opinion from the State Campaign Finance Commission. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce had asked the commission for an exemption — a position that would allow business persons to buy meals, tickets or other gifts for public officials without disclosing them.
Twenty-one Georgia legislators accepted gifts valued at $5,000 or more from lobbyists last year. Led by Senate majority leader Chip Rogers, the 21 legislators accounted for 10 percent of the $1.5 million in lobbyist handouts last year. We’re talking gift baskets, food and drink, golf, sports and concert tickets, lodging and airfare. These are the lawmakers who can’t say no.