That announcement, made by a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, certainly sounds like a principled response to the news from a newspaper analysis showing that lobbyists spent $866,747 on state lawmakers during this year’s legislative session.
The Atlanta newspaper notes that the total of lobbyists’ spending translates to an outlay of $9,525 per day, but it might be more instructive to translate it into an average expenditure on each of the state’s 236 lawmakers, which produces a figure of $3,672.66. Those are alarming figures, to be sure, but it’s far from certain that Cagle’s trumpeting of his intent to convene a committee to look at lobbyists’ spending will mean anything at all.
One of the first rules of politics is that creating a study committee is a handy way of appearing to have serious intent to address an issue, without ever necessarily having to do anything about it. In this state, one only has to look back at the considerable number of blue-ribbon panels convened to address educational funding and quality issues — balancing that against the fact that Georgia students, on average, continue to perform worse than their peers in most other states — to judge the legislature’s seriousness over time toward actually addressing that important issue in a meaningful way.
That’s not to say that Cagle’s intent to form a committee to study lobbyists’ spending isn’t genuine, nor is it to say that he’s not necessarily sincere about having the committee come up with some recommendations for consideration in next year’s legislative session.
Given the legislature’s past history with various study committees — remember the blue-ribbon panel convened a couple of years ago to recommend changes to the state’s tax system, whose report was summarily ignored by lawmakers? — it’s likely that Cagle’s expressed interest in a lobbying reform committee will have to be spurred on by Georgians who want reform, and want it sooner rather than later.
Reform clearly is needed, not least because legislative leaders, as the Atlanta newspaper’s report notes, say there’s no need to ban or limit lobbyists’ gifts as long as there’s a requirement that those gifts be disclosed. Obviously, though, the people of Georgia would be better served in knowing there were some limits on lobbyists’ expenditures than in having to cull through reports trying to figure who’s trying to court their lawmaker, and for what purpose.
For now, Cagle deserves due credit for calling for some study of lobbyists’ spending on lawmakers, but no one in this state should take it for granted that he’ll follow through on that pledge.