Sunday, September 09, 2007

Speaking of Ending It...

It's time for Georgia lawmakers to get out of bed with lobbyists-and I mean that only figuratively, I swear. Georgia needs to follow the example of neighboring states that strictly limit what lobbyists can spend on lawmakers. It is insulting to voters when our elected representatives argue that those who wine, dine and finance trips for them have no greater influence than the average citizen. Earth to lawmakers: we're not that dumb.

Shouldn't Georgia Democrats be the party that says "no more?" Sure, Democrats introduced legislation last year to cap lobbyist spending, and that bill went exactly no where, but how about we lead by example? How about we declare that we are the party that represents the people of Georgia, not special interests and big corporations who can afford to pay lobbyists to wine and dine legislators?* My point is that Democrats do not need a new law to say "no more" on this issue. They can, today, decide that they will self-impose a cap on what lobbyists spend on them. Several of our local lawmakers, notably, Sen. Brown and Rep. Lucas, seem to have already done just that. It's time to lead on this issue, and I'm giving some serious thought to leading myself. Why should I contribute to any lawmaker who is also taking contributions and perks from lobbyists?

(*By the way, if Richardson gets his way with the Great Big Tax on Everything, will the services lobbyists provide be subject to sales tax?)

What got me started on this issue again today? The AJC has a piece the summer trips financed by lobbyists for lawmakers.

What if your summer schedule included trips to posh resorts at St. Simons, Ponte Vedra Beach, Grand Cayman and Asheville, with some trips literally back to back? Rough life, right? Rep. Roger Williams seems to think so. Today, James Salzer with the AJC has a piece about the trips lobbyists provided for various lawmakers over the summer, including picking up a $20,000 tab for the Republican House Caucus's retreat at the King and Prince in St. Simons. (For the record, it's my understanding that the Democratic House Caucus Retreat was in Dubose Porter's barn. Not exactly the King and Prince, and a bit more down to earth. ) So entrenched is the culture of coziness with lobbyists and the industries they represent that in order to ensure equal footing, The University System of Georgia no less was among the biggest spenders at the Capitol during session. Isn't there just something inherently wrong with a system that has the state lobbying itself for a slice of the pie? The average citizen doesn't stand a chance in this high stakes, high dollar industry.

But, fear not, says Rep. Roger Williams of Dalton, those who wine, dine and pay for these extravagant trips have no advantage over average citizens. (I feel better, don't you?) As Chairman of Regulated Industries, he was "flat worn out" after attending one beach side conference after another this summer. I don't know how he had any energy left to listen to average citizens. According to the AJC:

First, in mid-June, it was the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers on St. Simons Island. Then it was off to St. Pete Beach, Fla., for the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association. Next came the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores in Ponte Vedra Beach. A few days later it was back to St. Simons Island for the House Republican Caucus meeting.
Three weeks later, he was back in Florida, attending a gathering of the Georgia Food Industry Association, which represents grocery stores and pushed the Sunday sales bill.
The trips cost lobbyists about $3,200, not including what they spent to sponsor the Republican caucus meeting.


This is not a partisan issue-both Democrats and Republican state lawmakers have raked in their share of perks. The percentage given to each party just varies with who is in power, underscoring the ridiculousness of claims that such perks do not represent undue influence-just access. But in the world of legislative politics, access is everything.

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7 comments:

Sneezy said...

I'm too low down in the ranks to really know first hand about the lobbying the University System does.

Without such lobbying, I doubt the legislature would approve the new buildings (which is even a tenth of what we want). Most of those were vetoed by Governor Perdue. Maybe we need to start lobbying him as well. Its ironic that most of the regents were appointed by the governor who rejects their recommendations.

Amy Morton said...

My point is that if there were limits on the amounts all lobbyists could spend, then the University system could spend a whole lot less and still be on equal footing with other industries. The fact that they are among the biggest spenders underscores the problem with the system at the Capitol. There are two levels to lobbyist spending-what an industry or entity pays the lobbyist and what the lobbyist spends directly or via their employer on legislators for tickets, dinners, trips and other perks. That's the part that needs to be capped.

Trackboy1 said...

Sure, GA Dem's should be the party that says no lobbyists gifts over $50 bucks. Elected officials can pay for their own damn meals, their own damn trips.

GA Dem's should day we are the party of ethics in governance, and we don't need afilthy stinking penny from lobbyists.

But for GA Dem's to do so, that would mean DuBose and Calvin would have to make a stand and have some cajones...and that ain't happening.

They should also ban married legislators from sleeping with hotie lobbyists...even though it would affect the extracirricular activities of Glenn Ricahrdson and Ben Harbin.

Tina said...

If you would know how government works these day...just follow the dollar...

Amy Morton said...

This year, Reps. Oliver, Porter, Hugley and Smyre were the sponsor of HB888 bill that capped lobbyist spending at $25.00. The text of the bill is here:

http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2007_08/fulltext/hb888.htm

The bill went nowhere, but they were all sponsors. Now, I am suggesting that bill or no bill, the Democratic caucus simply start following the rules contained in the bill. How about we take the "Just Say No" approach to reforming a system that is rigged against the average citizen?

By the way, I did check the reports of lobbyist expenditures on Symre and Porter, and while there was some, it was very little compared to other legislators. I think the largest $ amount on Porter's disclosure was a $200 donation a lobbyist made on his behalf to the high school football team in Dublin. There was one dinner at $106.00 and a $75.00 tie, but the handful of other expenditures were right around $50 or less. Looks like Smyre accepted even less. The lobbyist disclosures are available on the State Ethics Commission website.

Still, my wish is that Democrats would bite the bullet and accept zero, none, nada. When most of the perks are being dolled out to GOP members, what better time to take such a stand? With the GOP pushing locals aside in decisions about taxation, it's a great time to shine a bright light on the issue of who, really, should be in control of government.

And, Track, oerhaps you have the "inside track" ;) on info on legislator's 'activities' because all I have heard on those two, I'd have to put in the catagory of rumor-something I'm careful not to state as fact unless I've got the goods. But, I feel your pain.

Button Gwinnett said...

Yes, I enjoyed reading about Mr. Hamrick's $4000 trips this summer. That's just this summer alone. Oh, but he did turn down an invite to Hawaii. According to him that was a bit much. (eyes rolling)

VictoratGaImproper said...

if the dem caucus had been held in dubose' barn, i would have been invited, it didn't happen, yet.