Sunday, July 22, 2007

You Get What You Pay For

$931, 000. That's what lobbyists spent wining, dining and entertaining elected officials during this year's 65 day legislative session. Thank God for sine die, or they would've hit a million. The AJC has three articles today on lobbyist spending in Georgia: Raining Freebies, Jerry Keen, a Lavished Lawmaker, and Lawmakers and Freebies.

While Jerry Keen has officially won the lobbyist lottery, these expenditures are part of the cozy culture in Atlanta. According to the information available on the Georgia State Ethics Commission website, among lawmakers who represent a portion of Bibb County, my representative, freshman Allen Peake received the most perks from lobbyists. Here are the 2007 numbers for legislators who represent a portion of Bibb County:

Rep. Allen Peake: $1785.85

Rep. Nikki Randall: $1682.15

Rep. Allen Freeman: $1598.42

Rep. Tony Sellier: $1210.57

Sen. Cecil Staton: $449.28

Sen. Robert Brown: $152.48

Rep. David Lucas: $20.51

Speaker Glenn Richardson dismisses concerns about whether the luxuries lobbyists lavish upon lawmakers give them, and the interests they represent, undue influence:

Holding his thumb and index finger an inch apart Richardson said: " I have this much time in a day. I extend the day by going out and meeting with other people....I know there's people who look and go, 'All they want to do is go out to dinner and wine and dine'....People want time with me."

Isn't that the problem? He who pays for dinner gets access, and with elected officials, access is everything. How can anyone, with a straight face, even debate whether or not expenditures by lobbyists influence lawmakers? It is the job of lobbyists to influence lawmakers. That's what they're hired to do, and if spending money didn't further that purpose, then the money would stay in the bank. Think about it this way, if DPG chair Jane Kidd were buying Richardson's secretary's lunch everyday, would he be concerned? You bet he would, as well he should.

Plus, this data doesn't even begin to touch the money that the firms these lobbyists represent contribute directly to the campaign accounts of elected officials. And, then there's the infamous "speaker's fund."

Here's what I think. Folks work for the person who signs their check. Let's cut out lobbyist spending and raise the salaries of legislators (now $17,341.00) to the same level we pay entry level teachers. Even though the legislative session is only a portion of the year, by not paying a full time salary, we increase the temptation to take the lobbyist perks and greatly limit the pool of people who can offer themselves for service. Think about it. How many jobs allow employees to take about four months a year off to serve in the legislature, never knowing when they might be called back for a special session? Let's pay a reasonable salary and put an end to the "eatin, drinkin' and legislatin'" culture that breeds corruption in Atlanta.

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