image: gift with strings attached

It wouldn’t be fall in GA without an extravagant lobbyist funded trip

It sure seems like a year can’t go by without a lobbyist expenditure scandal. Last year it was the $17,000 Europe trip, for House Speaker David Ralston. This year it’s the $5,000 golf trip for Lt. Governor Casey Cagle. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution just reported that, “Lobbyists for a new for-profit cancer hospital [Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA)] paid more than $5,000 for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to play in a pro-am golf tournament on St. Simons Island in October”.

The problem isn’t just the amount that was spent on Cagle, but how the expenditures were reported. After the AJC began inquiring into the trip, the lobbyist for CTCA amended their filed reports, saying that they only actually spent $750.

The AJC article notes:

Since its business interests in Georgia began CTCA lobbyists have spent tens of thousands of dollars on state officials. In 2008 CTCA convinced legislators to change Georgia state law to allow it to build a $150 million hospital. The company had sought approval for the change for more than a year, hired top-drawer Capitol lobbyists to push its bill and spent thousands of dollars flying lawmakers to cancer facilities and wining and dining them.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics shows on their Follow the Money site that CTCA spent $110,700 on contributions in Georgia during the 2010 election. The candidate who received the most money from them was Karen Handel, who ran for Governor. Cagle received the second greatest amount, $8,100. Governor Nathan Deal received $6,100, and Speaker Ralston got $4,600. You can see the full breakdown here.

CCGA Executive Director William Perry told the AJC, “[The trip] doesn’t do anything to benefit the people of Georgia. It doesn’t educate him on public policy, it doesn’t provide anything about working in the state Senate. It’s only about currying favor for the lobbyist”. And Perry is exactly right. This is why we at Common Cause Georgia and other member of the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform are so adamant about the need for a lobbyist gift cap.

Another AJC article pointed out that Georgia is the only state in the region without any type of limit on lobbyist expenditures. Three of our neighboring states, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina, ban gifts altogether. Tennessee doesn’t allow expenditures over $55, and Alabama lobbyist can’t spend more than $25. Jay Bookman, author of the article, notes that the Alliance’s proposed $100 limit would still be the highest among states in the region.

It’s a shame that our state is constantly being embarrassed by these types of scandals. Rest assured that the Ethics Alliance is doing everything we can to keep this from happening again next year. Please help us make sure that citizens are the ones doing the majority of the influencing. You can help us by sending a letter to your legislator asking them to support our Ethics Proposal this upcoming session. This time next year we can be giving thanks for the stricter ethics laws, instead of shaking our heads at more scandals.

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About Rachel Bradley

Rachel Bradley is a social media/web intern at Common Cause Georgia, and a student at Agnes Scott College, where she's studying Sociology/Anthropology and Human Rights. She's also the mother of 2-year-old Allison, a future Common Causer!

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