House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) burped and slurped at the lizard-loafered lobbyists’ trough at the rate of $2,500 for the 40-day legislative session and House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta) dined with one lobbyist 13 times in that same period.
By contrast, State Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) was entertained at the rate of $100; State Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb), $184; State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, (R-Powder Springs), $262; State Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), $200; State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), a measly $92. David Ralston probably consumed more in sausage and biscuits in a week than our delegation received from lizard-loafered lobbyists over the entire legislative session.
Even State Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) was a major league fuddy-duddy. According to the Georgia Government Transparency and (inhale) Campaign Finance Commission, Mr. Rogers returned all $1,304 in lobbyist meals and other goodies filed under his name. Some political observers say that he has so many public school teachers in Cherokee County mad at him for his heavy-handed tactics in getting the charter school amendment passed that he is trying to avoid as much controversy as possible to discourage someone running against him.
Not everyone was quite as circumspect. Rep. Don Parsons (R-East Cobb) whose constituents say he is harder to locate than a winning lottery ticket was somehow found by the lobbyists and was wined and dined to the tune of $1,249.
Newcomer Rep. John Carson (R-East Cobb) enjoyed $1,200 worth of lobbying beneficence during the 40-day legislative session. State Rep. Matt Dollar (R-East Cobb) received just over $1,000 worth of food and other items from lobbyists and then favored us with the same condescending comments we’ve been hearing from legislators since the founding of the Republic.
“It does not influence my vote,” Dollar said of the gifts. “My vote is not for sale for a dinner or for any amount of money.” Oh, horse patoot. Of course, lobbying influences your vote. Otherwise, why would lobbyists spend money on you and give you campaign contributions if they aren’t trying to influence your vote? Do we look like a bunch of tree stumps? Here is a suggestion, Mr. Dollar: Next year, pay for all the meals yourself and don’t accept lobbyists’ campaign contributions and we won’t have to have this conversation again.
This may all be a moot point because if the Legislature can’t find the backbone to institute some lobbying expenditure limits as has been done in 47 other states, the voters are going to do it for them. David Ralston’s $17,000 Thanksgiving trip to Germany with his family a couple of years ago, courtesy of a Washington operative who wasn’t even registered as a lobbyist, has stuck in the craw of a lot of Georgians. Ralston has neither apologized for his bad judgment nor paid back the money.
Nothing has been done to curb lobbying expenditures because the speaker doesn’t want them curbed. His lame excuse is that we can go to the ethics commission website and see for ourselves who is spending what and on whom. You might want to rethink that one, Mr. Speaker. Every time we see $100 dinners and free trips to resorts, it reminds us once again that the political process is out of our control. We wonder if lobbyists and lawmakers are making deals that we don’t know about and that frustrates us even more and makes us more determined to see the lobbying laws reformed.
I’ve heard all the excuses for why limiting lobbyist expenditures won’t work. The worst reason is that lobbying will “go underground.” What that says is we can’t trust the people who make the law to follow the law. That is an insult to a lot of good men and women who are in public service for the right reasons.
For the most part, our Cobb County delegation seems to have heard our discontent and for that, I applaud them. Lobbying is an important part of the democratic process but people need to have the confidence that it is being done properly.
Polls show that Georgians — including a majority of Republican voters — don’t think that is the case. If lawmakers are unwilling to change the system, we voters will change it for them.
Somehow, I think our influence will buy their vote in a jiffy.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.