Some of Georgia’s most powerful companies are helping to underwrite a 12-day trade mission launched this week by Gov. Nathan Deal, guaranteeing them exclusive access to leaders during the high-stakes trip.
Coca-Cola Co., Aflac Inc. and Delta Air Lines are among the firms helping to defray travel costs or paying to sponsor exclusive galas. But you won’t find this type of spending detailed in lobbyist disclosures or campaign financing reports. That’s because it’s not required under the murky rules guiding spending in Georgia.
State officials say the sponsorships of two events and other in-kind contributions help trip organizers stretch taxpayer dollars further for the three-country hop that began Monday in South Korea and ends Aug. 30 in Tokyo after a swing through China.
State officials declined to give a projected cost of the trip.
Corporate representatives describe the sponsorships as a tool to increase travel, jobs and investment in Georgia.
But watchdog activists said the practice gives powerful business interests more leverage to influence policymakers without the public knowing of the expenses. They worry that Georgia is peddling political face time at the cost of transparency.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if all Georgians can have that kind of access to politicians? It’s a shame that paid access is the only way to access political leaders,” said Jon Sinton, a media consultant who chairs the board of Common Cause of Georgia, a watchdog group. “You have to write a check.”