Everyone seems comfortable with the relationship between lawmakers and lizard-loafered lobbyists except We the Unwashed. But, then, what do we know? Rep. Don Parsons (R-Cobb County), a seven-term member of the House, views the fuss over trying to curb unlimited lobbying expenditures as "silly." Parsons has some serious competition in the Republican primary. I would have suggested he employ a more appropriate term. Most of us don’t find this matter to be silly.
House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), one of the prime beneficiaries of lobbyists’ largesse, believes the issue to be a left-wing liberal conspiracy. I don’t drive in the political fast lane, but I find that accusation a little confusing because a poll by the Atlanta newspapers found that 82 percent of Republicans who are registered to vote want lobbying limits.
A new poll by Round or Square Polls, a division of the Yarbrough Worldwide Media and Pest Control Company located in Greater Garfield, reports that one hundred percent of the 82 percent of the Republicans who want to see expenditure limitations on lobbyists were surprised to learn they are left-wing liberals. As Junior E. Lee, the company’s general manager, observed, "You just can’t tell about folks these days."
Ralston urges us to check his entertainment schedule on the Georgia Government Transparency and (inhale) Campaign Finance Commission Web site instead of fretting over limiting lobbying expenditures. So I do. Every month. And I will. Every month. Call it my gift to you.
On June 6, Arthur "Skin" Edge, of the lobbying firm GeorgiaLink Public Affairs bought the speaker a $24.95 dinner. A week later on June 12, Christopher Downing, a registered lobbyist for UHS-Pruitt Corporation, a regional healthcare company, paid $105.42 for dinner for the speaker. The next day — or night, the commission report isn’t that transparent — Mr. Downing spent $16.51 on drinks for the speaker and then Downing bought the speaker dinner, a measly $21.81.
That brings David Ralston’s total for the month of June to $168.69 and for the first six months of 2012 to $4,145.21, courtesy of lizard-loafered lobbyists.
But wait, as the infomercials say, there’s more. Lobbyists and their well-heeled companies have also contributed mightily to Ralston’s reelection campaign fund, which stands at $317,897.28. That should be just enough to get him over the top, since he is running unopposed.
Why does this man need that much money when no one is running against him? The answer: He doesn’t. What he does is dole out portions of the fund to his minions in the Legislature for their own reelection campaigns. It is a great way to ensure loyalty to the speaker courtesy of the lobbyists, of course.
Longtime Georgia political observer and columnist Tom Crawford writes, "Although much attention is being paid to the dollars that lobbyists spend to entertain legislators, the really big money in Georgia politics comes in the form of campaign contributions, many of them made by lobbyists." He is right on the button
And then there is this: The unregistered lobbyist who took Speaker Ralston and his family and Ralston’s chief of staff Spiro Amburn and his wife to Germany on the $17,000 boondoggle over the Thanksgiving holidays in 2010 was fined a whopping $300 by the Transparency and Whatever Committee recently. Why such a little fine for such a big brouhaha?
The entourage says it was there to look at magnetic levitation trains (insert joke here.) State law only requires a person to register as a lobbyist if they are trying to influence pending legislation. Since no one had introduced a bill on maglev trains before or during this excursion, there was no official influence peddling taking place, even though their host represents a company that sells these trains. Even Junior E. Lee is still trying to figure that one out.
I had high hopes when the Republicans gained control in Georgia from a group of Democrats who thought they ruled by Divine Right. I should have known better. Incumbency breeds money and money breeds arrogance and in politics, arrogance knows no party affiliation.
I give the current crowd one more election cycle to make a serious effort to understand our concerns about their nod-nod, wink-wink association with lobbyists and to do something about it. If they don’t, not even their suck-up relationship with the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity can save their careers. Legislators may find all of this silly, but We the Unwashed do not.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.