Sponsored by a nonprofit called Friends of Agriculture Foundation Inc., the Wild Hog Supper raises money for the Georgia Food Bank Association and offers politicians and lobbyists face time with the state’s leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal.
It’s also a chance for corporations to endear themselves to legislators before the General Assembly returns to session Monday. Although the foundation’s leaders are Statehouse lobbyists, the people and firms who subsidize the meal do not have to disclose their expenses because of how Georgia defines lobbyists. The meal, expected to be attended by hundreds of people, has been a fixture for half a century and is the sole purpose of the foundation, which dates back only a few years.
Under current law, people advocating for or against legislation must register as lobbyists if they spend more than 10 percent of their monthly working time lobbying or if they spend $1,000 or more annually on those activities.
Because the nonprofit foundation does not push for legislation, it is exempt from reporting, said Don Cargill, a lobbyist who serves as the foundation’s treasurer.
“We’re paying for the thing, and how much any one of the friends gives, that’s confidential information,” Cargill said of the dinner.
“There is no lobbying on the part of the Friends of Agriculture,” he added. “There is no lobbying on behalf of the Food Bank. They are getting the proceeds of this event.”
Legally defining a lobbyist will be part of the debate as Georgia lawmakers consider changes to the state’s ethics rules. House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, said this week that he would propose legislation forcing more people to register as lobbyists, though he did not reveal specifics. Other Georgia watchdog groups have advocated for similar moves.
Some organizations voluntarily disclose their funding. The Georgia Electric Membership Corp. paid nearly $1,700 as one of several co-sponsors of last year’s event. The Georgia Agribusiness Council spent $500.
“We don’t feel like disclosure is a wall of shame,” said Bryan Tolar, president of the Agribusiness Council.