The legislative session is over and with it goes the endless train of free meals and strange offerings lobbyists hand out to state lawmakers.
Lobbyists reported spending a little more than $477,000 for the first three months of the year. Most of the money went to fund large receptions, but there were thousands of smaller, private dinners and drinks with individual legislators that any lobbyist will tell you is the most valuable use of their time and money.
In 2013, lawmakers (under duress) passed a $75 cap on most lobbyist spending but placed no limits on how many times a lawmaker could accept sub-$75 gifts. Let’s take a look at the top 10 receivers of the year so far, and don’t miss No. 8 on the list, Sen. Dean Burke, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee.
1. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, $2,188.
There’s only one Jeff Mullis, a theatrical and very powerful man in the Senate. As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, he controls which bills make it to the full Senate for a vote.
That pull was enough to attract 85 separate lobbying gifts, all of the comestible variety. To keep Mullis’ appetite under the $75 cap occasionally required multiple lobbyists to split the cost of entertaining the north Georgia Republican.
In a three-day span — Jan. 27-29 — lobbyists for Bristol-Myers Squibb, the Georgia Mining Association, Georgia Power, Georgia EMC, Oglethorpe Power, Comcast, the Georgia Cable Association and lobbying firm Capitol Partners split the costs of feeding Mullis.
On eight separate occasions during the session, Mullis dined with the lobbyist for insurance giant Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which is the insurer of choice for most state employees.
2. Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, $2,015.
Wilkinson is chairman of Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs and vice chairman of Education, and the recipient of 53 lobbyist gifts.
Almost half of his total ($915) came the result of a trip to Louisiana sponsored by pro-charter group StudentsFirst as part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s education reform agenda. Meals sponsored by Delta Airlines, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Transportation Alliance, among many others, rounded out Wilkinson’s calendar.
A former Georgia Department of Education program manager, Wilkinson is in his second full term, having been elected in a special election in 2011.
3. House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, $2933.
A few years ago, House Speaker David Ralston reacted to increased scrutiny of lobbying gifts by refusing to take them. Not so for the No. 2 leader of the chamber.
Like others on the list, a large share of Jones’ total came from the StudentsFirst trip to Louisiana, but lobbyists made 28 other disclosures for Jones.
4. Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, $1,860.
Randall is somewhat unexpected. She’s been in the House since 1999, but she’s still a Democrat and therefor has limited pull in the Republican-dominated General Assembly. Yet lobbyists ranging from AT&T and Georgia Power to Tesla Motors and Emory University found time to log 56 different expenditures for Randall during the legislative session.
5. Rep. Jason Shaw, R-Lakeland, $1,848.
Like his colleague across the aisle (Randall), Shaw is a relatively low-profile member of the GOP caucus but he still attracted plenty of lobbyist attention.
Shaw attracted significant attention from financial sector lobbyists. That’s of little surprise since he sponsored House Bill 439, which would provide tax breaks for the firms investing in small businesses and in low-income areas.
6. Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, $1,807.
Minority Whip in the House, Hugley was among those on the StudentsFirst trip to Louisiana. She had 39 lobbyist disclosures during the session, including dinner meetings with lobbyists from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Tesla Motors and a variety of healthcare representatives.
7. Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, $1,778.
Kelley, a recently elected (2013) member of the majority caucus with relatively minor posts in the House, nonetheless found himself courted by lobbyists representing utilities and cable companies (he’s on the House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee), among others.
Among the 52 disclosures attributed to him, Kelley had no single expenditure larger than the $75 cap, but he did pull a neat trick. On Feb. 10, three lobbyists from the Georgia Municipal Association combined forces to pay for what is listed as a $225 dinner — each claiming $75 on the button.
8. Sen. Dean Burke, R-Bainbridge, $1,633.
The chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, Burke had 54 lobbying disclosures attached to him during the session, all of them the food and beverage variety. A lot of the regular characters are represented: Blue Cross, Georgia Power, Georgia EMC and others.
Burke is the sponsor of Senate Bill 158, an insurance reform bill that seeks to change the way the state regulates the relationship between insurance companies and providers. As a result, lobbyists from insurance companies, hospitals and the state medical association were among those interested in dining with him.
9. Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, $1,628.
Although he barely cracks the top 10, Shafer is one of the most important politicians under the Gold Dome. He also was one of the lawmakers tapped to go on the StudentsFirst trip, which accounts for more than half his total.
The lobbyist for the Georgia craft brewers offered Shafer a commemorative (and empty) bottle as a gifts, but later backed off the $14 expenditure indicating that Shafer must have returned it.
10. Martha Todd, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, $1620.20.
Todd is the only non-legislator to make the top 10, which is somewhat awkward since Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order limiting employees of the executive branch to gifts of no more than $25, when they come from registered lobbyists.
So how did Todd end up with so large a bill? She went on two trips paid for by StudentsFirst — one to view schools in Louisiana and a second to Memphis, Tenn., to see schools there. The governor’s office maintains the trips were allowed under an exemption to the order.