In The Hunt for Red October, following his briefing on Soviet sub Captain Marko Ramius, CIA Analyst Jack Ryan learned the perfect definition of a politician from Jeffrey Pelt, the President’s National Security Adviser. In the same conversation Ryan also learned he was the expendable asset being sent to contact and contain the possibly defecting Captain.
I’m a politician which means I’m a cheat and a liar, and when I’m not kissing babies I’m stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open.
Last year, Georgia passed new ethics legislation. But with the State Ethics Commission of Georgia lacking funding and human resources, the law is a dog that won’t hunt. Limited enforcement encourages bad behavior, or in the case of our legislature, business as usual.
Last week the AJC treated us with a peek inside the swirling special interest storm created by lobbyists and others currying favor with legislators.
A partnership of oilmen, car dealers and liquor merchants spent nearly $2,000 so far this year stocking a private bar for state lawmakers in a downtown condominium.
But that is just the beginning. In just the past two weeks, lobbyists have spent more than $80,000 — $340 per member of the General Assembly — literally wining and dining lawmakers, their spouses and staff members.
Then there’s “that condo.”
A traditional stop on this smorgasbord of special interest largess is a suite on the 12th floor of The Landmark, a Piedmont Avenue condominium building, as a refuge for lawmakers to drop in and unwind. Since the start of the legislative session last month, the Georgia Oilmen’s Association, the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association and the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association have spent $1,903 stocking the suite.
[…] The oil lobby was there too, spending about $170 on supplies for the suite during the [ice] storm, according to records.
While some may see the value in allowing lawmakers a space to casually discuss events of the day, the fact that it is fully funded by lobbyists does not sit well with ethics reformers.
“If people think those things do not influence at least some legislators, then they’re being naïve,” said Julianne Thompson of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots.
“I guess sometimes I don’t think we think about it,” [Rep. Gerald] Greene admitted. “We are so much about doing what we have to do every day that sometimes we don’t think about how other people see it.”
Indeed. As we have discussed perceptions previously, the belief that all politicians are on the take is fueled by their very own behavior. If they want Georgians to believe they are following ethics guidelines that are now state law, we need to see evidence.
It takes some digging, but there will many of us watching the lobbyist expenditures on those legislators connected with the spiking of the lately departed bill of which we no longer speak. While the true nature of the bill (allowing local referendums on sales) was twisted by a wide variety of opponents, the real story was the lack of, shall we say, glandular fortitude exhibited by those same legislators shepherding the bill to its annual grave. Isn’t it their job to stand up to such pressure? If you don’t have the stomach for political blood sport, then go home.
If I didn’t know better, I’d expect Monday’s filings to include one changing the State Bird from the Brown Thrasher to the Big Chicken.
As North Georgia attorney McCracken Poston noted in the AJC article, “Basically these lobbyists have created a sense of indebtedness.” Just wondering, how much of the bill’s death can be contributed to this misdirected sense of obligation? Shouldn’t the only obligation legislators feel be to their constituents?
“Whether those gifts wield power over the decisions rendered on our behalf or not, the appearance of impropriety results in distrust,” said Angela Speir Phelps of Georgia Watch, a consumer watchdog group.
Georgians are tired of the “politics as usual” club when the Legislature rolls into town. Lawmaking is serious business, not a Mardi Gras party. While these lobbyists line the pockets of politicians, keeping all their options open like the fictional Jeffrey Pelt, many Georgians are struggling just to get by. The government transparency term has been overused lately, but in reality, we all want to know more about our government’s operations, not less.
The state budget alone should be enough to put the fear of third world nation status into all their hearts.
If those leaders in Georgia government want us to believe they are really making an effort in across the board ethics reform, they need to show us something to bolster our belief. Anything. Hello? Is anyone listening in the Gold Dome?