The biggest recipients of the freebies — which included 42 tickets to Atlanta Falcons games, two seats at a Jeff Foxworthy show and 435 dinners — were leaders of the House and Senate, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Saturday.
New ethics laws passed last year require lobbyists to disclose every two weeks what they’re spending to influence Georgia legislators and the policies they make.
House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) was the top recipient of lobbyist’s spending, with $2,747 in gifts reported in January. He was followed by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, who got $2,230 in free dinners, tickets and other items.
Public Service Commissioner Bubba McDonald was third on the list, with lobbyists giving him $1,500 worth of lodging and food.
Lobbyists pay for all sorts of events during the legislative session. Some are open to all lawmakers, such as the Savannah-Chatham Seafood Feast. The Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce shelled out more than $84,000 for the spread last month.
Still, much of the spending is on private dinners that give lobbyists time alone with powerful lawmakers. Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams says he declines more invitations than he accepts.
“I turn a lot of folks down,” said Williams (R-Lyons), who received more than $900 in lobbyists gifts last month. “But I need to know about the issues. If it’s something I need to learn more about, I’m more likely to consider that.”
Ethics watchdogs say lobbying has its place, but there should be reasonable limits.
Several groups, including Common Cause Georgia, are calling for a $100 cap on any individual expenditure by a lobbyist.
William Perry, Common Cause’s executive director in Georgia, said the spending limit would allow lobbyists to conduct business without the largesse that could indicate influence peddling.
“We’re not trying to eliminate business lunches or business dinners because we recognize legislators’ days are pretty full,” Perry said. “A dinner paid for someone isn’t our concern. It is the bigger luxury item.”