Four years ago, a lobbyist and a state senator completed a casual real estate deal at an iconic Atlanta-area restaurant. No money appeared to change hands, suggesting a gift worth tens of thousands of dollars, and the senator did not disclose he had acquired a condo in the deal. Both parties now say the paperwork was incorrect. The circumstances illustrate the frequently close relationships between the lobbyists and the lobbied and underscore the importance of fully understanding the information conveyed in public records.
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.”
Here’s a plan for making budget cuts that cost taxpayers $618,000 more every year: Replace private security guards making $77,000 a year at the state Capitol with troopers earning about nine times as much. That’s what the state Department of Public Safety did in 2010.
Enforcers of Georgia’s ethics laws are stuck in limbo, if not outright paralysis — a legacy of the Glenn Richardson years at the state Legislature. They’re wondering whether new leadership under the Gold Dome cares enough to set things right. In 2009, on Richardson’s watch, the Georgia House pushed through language stripping the State Ethics Commission of its rule-making power. Now the panel needs to adopt new rules to carry out subsequent legislative changes to ethics laws. But, says executive secretary Stacey Kalberman said, “It appears that we don’t have authority to do anything.”
Tim Echols, a nonprofit leader and political consultant running for the Georgia Public Service Commission, says he earned more than $120,000 last year plus a housing allowance and family health benefits worth another $67,000.
Each year, lobbyists organize and pay for lunches at hot spots like The 191 Club, day trips and other events – some costing thousands of dollars — to entertain the spouses of Georgia legislators. No one knows the total price tag. Or, at least, the ones who know aren’t always saying.
Candidates for the Georgia Legislature must disclose certain info about their personal finances within 15 days of qualifying for office. Apparently, no one explained that to Ron Dodson or Donzella James. Disclosure forms ask for basic information about a candidate’s job, business and real estate holdings and those of their spouses. The general idea is that voters can find out whether a politician’s public and private interests conflict. Legislators this year delined to raise the penalty for not filing, which remains at 75 bucks.