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Monday, April 15, 2013

Lobbyists spent one-third less on state lawmakers in 2013

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, prevented meaningful ethics reform by insisting on loopholes
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, prevented meaningful ethics reform by insisting on loopholes.
With ethics reform coming to the Gold Dome, many lobbyists during this year's legislative session got a head start and began curbing their spending.

Lobbyists showered state lawmakers in 2013 with $587,000 on food, gifts, and other perks - a third less than they did the previous year. The reductions came as the General Assembly heavily debated and eventually passed House Bills 142 and 143. If signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal, the measures would enact a $75 gift cap and place other limitations on what legislators can accept from political activists.

Despite the decline, the AJC's Aaron Gould Sheinin and Chris Joyner note that lobbyists still threw their money around on the legislative session's most important days:

While spending hit its lowest mark last month, there were some notable spikes showing attempts by lobbyists to time their gifts to make the greatest impact.

This year, lobbyists spent $25,610 on Crossover Day - the final day for bills to pass at least one chamber - and the two days leading up to it.

The second spike occurred on Day 40, the end of the session, when lobbyists spent $16,680 feeding lawmakers, their spouses and Capitol staffers.

Lobbyists spent more than $1,200 on breakfast, nearly $8,000 on lunch and $4,600 on dinners for legislators and staff on the final day this year. That doesn't count the additional $2,200 on meals, drinks and snacks that weren't itemized by meal. It also doesn't include the $750 spent on post-session soirees and day after lunches.

Yet, spending was down even for those traditionally big days. For example, special interests spent $32,054 last year on Day 40 goodies.

After several months of bickering over different ethics bills, General Assembly leaders brokered a compromise on Sine Die. Although the pieces of legislation contain loopholes, many Gold Dome observers think that the bills are a significant step forward and could be strengthened next year. Especially when you consider there were no limits on lobbyists' largesse before the measures passed.

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