Whether $3,000 worth of wrestling tickets bought some of Georgia’s moneyed and politically connected special interests anything beyond that vague and supposedly innocent commodity euphemistically called “access” is open to debate (and, we hope, to disclosure).
But even at a time when everything from public schools to children’s health insurance is vulnerable, lobbyists still have the means to let the good times roll.
That’s not to say the special interests were unaffected by the same economic woes that put the squeeze on the rest of us. On the contrary, lobbyist spending on Georgia lawmakers, their families and staffs dropped from the 2010 total of $1.13 million all the way down to an anemic $997,508.
Talk about a fiscal austerity movement.
Or maybe it’s just that only the best-funded and most well-connected interests can still afford it. In hindsight, a new $300 lobbyist registration fee looks more and more like a well-intentioned reform move that proved to be a bad joke -- chump change for Georgia Power or the Outdoor Advertising Association, but just enough of an obstacle to keep some of the more modest interests, however worthy, away from the table.
“The wine and women are more effective than our Sierra Club calendars,” ruefully noted environmental volunteer Mark Woodall, who would have had to pay the $300 himself.
So what did that lavish good fellowship accomplish? Hard to say, but pretty easy to guess.
For instance, among the big spenders were the Georgia Association of Convenience Store Owners and the Georgia Food Industry Association, both of whose constituencies have huge stakes in local voters being able to legalize Sunday alcohol sales. (Lawmakers were no doubt moved to revive the Sunday sales bill by dedication to the democratic process, but thousands of dollars worth of food those interests provided every day of the legislative session couldn’t have hurt.)
The single biggest lobbyist expenditure, at more than $84,000, was by the Savannah Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. This year’s state budget includes $32 million in bond funds for dredging and deepening the Savannah seaport.
Another big spender was the billboard industry, which finally got its way on public right-of-way tree cutting after years of resistance by … well, by just about everybody except the industry itself and its friends in the General Assembly. And any connection between Comcast’s contribution to the Wrestlemania tickets and the quiet death of a proposed cable TV tax surely exists only in the minds of the hopelessly cynical.
Lawmakers, who didn’t let a proposed $100 cap on lobbyist gifts so much as sniff the air, argue that disclosure laws give voters the final say. Even so, whatever bad policy those officials leave behind doesn’t magically disappear after election day.