Cherokee Tribune – Georgia officials take lobbyist gifts before new rules go into effect Jan 1

29
Dec

Cherokee Tribune – Georgia officials take lobbyist gifts before new rules go into effect Jan 1

ATLANTA — Lobbyists bought a few last rounds of golf, sporting tickets and other perks for Georgia’s public officials before new rules take effect next year that will cut down on at least some of that spending.

The new rules generally ban lobbyists from spending more than $75 at a time on public officials or giving them free tickets to games, concerts and other recreational events. Still, there are plenty of loopholes that will allow for significant influence peddling even after the General Assembly reconvenes next month for its annual 40-day session.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed the new rules on May 6. It created an awkward lag. While the state’s top-ranking political leaders supported an end to unlimited lobbyist spending, the old system remains legal until New Year’s Day. Several politicians accepted gifts during this delay that would be illegal, or at least questionable, once the new restrictions start.

For example, Sprint lobbyist Patrick Muchmore gave Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta) Falcons football tickets worth $340 on Nov. 10, according to lobbyist filings with the state’s Ethics Commission. Parsons has influence over legislation that affects Sprint because he chairs the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee. Parsons did not return a call seeking comment, while Muchmore deferred comment to a Sprint spokesman.

Those who supported tighter rules on lobbyist spending were not surprised that politicians did not voluntarily scale back.

“That was my expectation of why they waited until Jan 1, 2014, for the law to go into effect,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. “There was no other reason other than to work in one more Masters Tournament, one more baseball season, one more football season before the new law went into effect.”

Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland) accepted four tickets on Sept. 27 from a lobbyist so his family could attend a Braves game. Those tickets were provided by Georgia Power lobbyist Scott Draper, whom Shaw described as a close family friend. Draper and Shaw’s father know each other from when Shaw’s father was a state lawmaker. Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said the utility follows all lobbying laws.

“The way I see it is the new law takes effect Jan. 1,” Shaw said. “If it was something that I thought was wrong, I wouldn’t do it. A ticket to the Braves game would not factor into any decisions that I make. I’m going to go the Braves game regardless of whether I have to pay it or not.”

via Cherokee Tribune – Georgia officials take lobbyist gifts before new rules go into effect Jan 1.

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