Nonprofit seeks to tame the Wild Hog | www.myajc.com

24
Nov

Nonprofit seeks to tame the Wild Hog | www.myajc.com

For a half-century, the storied Wild Hog Supper has symbolized the beginning of the legislative feeding season at the Capitol.

Next Jan. 12, however, the annual kickoff to the General Assembly will not benefit hungry lawmakers so much as hungry people across the state. After years of paying for the dinner, lobbyists are backing away from sponsoring the Wild Hog, and the Georgia Food Bank Association is taking over. Now, for the first time, legislators will have to pay to get in — at $20 a head — and proceeds will go to feeding the poor.

“We can’t justify giving a free meal to the members of the General Assembly when there are people just outside the door of the Freight Depot who are in need of a free meal,” said Danah Craft, executive director of the association, a nonprofit organization representing seven regional food banks.

The annual event is twin-billed as a buffet of South Georgia feral pig and a chance to cozy up to the state’s top politicians and is held in the historic Georgia Railroad Freight Depot across from the Capitol. Hundreds of people attend the Wild Hog, but unlike most large legislative events no alcohol is served and lawmakers often bring family members and supporters from their home districts to pose for pictures with the governor and other leaders.

Craft said the format will remain the same, with the important exception that legislators will not be provided free tickets.

The change comes as lawmakers and lobbyists tiptoe into a new era. This year the General Assembly passed House Bill 142, setting the first-ever limits on spending by special interests on public officials.

The bill caps individual gifts at $75 and outlaws some pure entertainment expenses. The new law takes effect Jan.1; the Wild Hog is slated for Jan. 12.

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Between ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, Craft said the event should raise some money for the food banks. But the supper’s visibility and the chance to work closely with allies in the Legislature and the state Department of Agriculture are just as important, she said.

“We’re excited about the partnerships that it is going to open,” she said.

Craft, a registered lobbyist for the food bank association, said all of the costs and sponsorships associated with the event will be transparent.

That would be a significant change from recent years: some lobbyists who contributed to the event reported those costs to the state ethics commission, while others did not. This year, four lobbyists disclosed spending a total of $2,250 for the feast, although the total cost is estimated to be closer to $15,000.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said the idea to shift the event came from the Friends of Agriculture, which “wanted to go a different route.” Black then approached the food bank association and asked them to take over.

“I thought going to the food bank was a good idea and I look forward to buying my tickets,” Black said.

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