The analysis shows lobbyists spent $866,747 on gifts for lawmakers between Jan. 1 and March 31 — an average of $9,525 per day. It included more than $17,000 in free sports and events tickets, dinners that cost as much as $245 apiece and golf outings.
The expenditures came as a statewide coalition called the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform urged legislators to limit lobbyists’ gifts to $100 per event. The measure never emerged from committee during the 40-day session.
But there are signs the lobbyist culture is changing. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s office told the newspaper on Friday he plans to study the issue of lobbying later this year. And Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers this year quietly decided not to accept any gifts from lobbyists.
It’s hard to connect a lobbyist’s spending with a development in the Legislature, but state ethics reports make it easier to determine high levels of activity from lobbyists.
State Rep. Mickey Channell, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, went to dozens of dinners with lobbyists representing hospitals, auto dealers, utilities and retailers during the first three months of the year. He was particularly popular because he was the sponsor of a House bill that called for a wide-ranging update to the state’s tax structure.
Channell told the newspaper the dinners were “perfectly legal” and a part of doing business at the statehouse.
“The bottom line is, frankly, it extends the legislative day for me,” he told the newspaper. “I go to work early, and most often times go out to eat with this group or that group.”
It applied even to a Valentine’s Day dinner for Channell and his wife Carolyn. Lobbyists for the Georgia Hospital Association and Georgia Power reported spending a total of $236.96 for the couple’s dinner that evening.
Rogers, meanwhile, accepted more than $10,000 in gifts from lobbyists in 2011. But this year he said he wanted to go back to his Woodstock district with a zero on his lobbyist balance sheet, so he gave everything back.