Georgia’s Celebrities In Government

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Politics is often called “Hollywood for ugly people”. The intersection of money and power produces an intoxicating allure for those who are the key players, who need not be beautiful nor exceptionally talented to attract admirers, followers, and sycophants. Everyone wants to be the friend of the key players. Proximity and relationship to a key politician is a status symbol within the political world, and a lot of money changes hands each year to ensure access and position.

Elected officials at the center of these circles often become desensitized to the differences from this world and the one that those of us who aren’t the target of such spending. For most of us, if we were offered a trip with food, lodging, and other perks, we would probably want to know who was paying for this, as well as have some understanding of why. Such is apparently not the case for Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

As reported by WXIA 11Alive News, Kemp along with five other elected officials attended a charity quail hunt in South Georgia benefitting The Sportsman’s Pantry. The cost of the trip was covered by three lobbyists, and properly disclosed according to Georgia law. Kemp is apparently unpleased with the disclosure.

“I wouldn’t have taken the trip if I’d known it was going to be disclosed that somebody was paying for a quail hunt for me,” he said in an interview with the Atlanta station. That is, at least, a brutally honest response, so I guess points should be awarded for that. So how does a public official come to arrive at a quail hunt with hunting fees plus food and lodging covered?

“I was just asked to come hunt and be the celebrity guest” is his answer, noting he didn’t really ask who would be paying for the trip.

Again, a brutally honest answer to a question about an event he attended where he did nothing illegal or unethical according to Georgia laws. This is not in dispute.

The idea that once elected, our politicians become “celebrities” should concern us all in a world where stars are lavished with seemingly limitless gifts and gratuities. Not all celebrity politicians are created equal. A freshman member of the house may receive little attention from the lobbying community. Powerful committee chairs and statewide elected officials – those with real power that can affect legislation and appropriation – have lobbyists that will cater to their every need.

Lobbyists provide a service in educating members of a citizen legislature about the finer points of legislation and how it will impact groups of citizens and industries which they represent. But for many to have the opportunity to present their case to legislators and other elected officials, they must first build a relationship and sense of trust with those same officials. This comes with a price, and lobbyists are charged with finding out what events or activities the elected officials most enjoy in order to set the venue in the official’s most natural habitat. This can be a hunting trip, NASCAR event, steak dinner, of golf outing.

Hunting trips, golf outings, and other events are often designed to benefit charities, but also set with entrance fees to ensure that it is a VIP experience for those who plunk down significant checks to rub elbows with others of the well heeled set. Elected officials routinely get invites to such events at no charge, giving them the same opportunity to mix and mingle with the same powerful people who often fund campaigns and can help local grass roots efforts.

But the usually unspoken expectation that these gifts should not be disclosed once again highlights a fundamental flaw with Georgia’s current ethics laws. Elected officials have no burden of disclosure, and no penalty for accepting gifts and gratuities that go undisclosed. They may accept freebies from any who offer, and grow so accustomed to the practice that some no longer to bother to ask, or presumably care, who is paying. Such is the celebrity mindset.

Georgia continues to operate a political system that allows unlimited gifts to elected officials while placing no responsibility or accountability on those same officials to acknowledge what they receive. So long as this is allowed to continue, Georgia will continued to be served by celebrities instead of public servants.


  1. Baker says:

    Kind of in this same vein is the idea that an untold number of public officials should have their own drivers, a team of security, and more than likely, a p.r.-related person that travels with them as well.

    The esteemed doctor, Beverly Hall, had a driver that got paid over $100K. Some of these extravagances may be necessary…sometimes…but it’s another piece of the puzzle separating the “ruling class” from us mere normals.

  2. drjay says:

    maybe i’m just a pollyanna–but i don’t think sec. kemp, meant that to sound the way some people seem to think it sounds–if he thought he was being asked to participate in a charity thing as a “celebrity” the thought of lobbyists paying his way and it appearing to be some sort of lobbyist gift probably never crossed his mind, and if he had known it was some “benefit” being provided by a lobbyist he would have declined, it may not be on par with a quail hunt, but locally we have “celebrity” stuff like that all the time (dancing with the “local” stars, or chili cook offs etc..) that will feature local news anchors, and folks like the sheriff or mayor to raise money for charities…

    • Bucky Plyler says:

      I want to give him the benefit of the doubt even though I don’t know him.

      ” I was just asked to come & be the celebrity guest.”

      I do think the whole issue is very important, though. If more “tracking” (even of things not currently required for diclosure) of legislators & state officials is brought to light it will help.

      There shouldn’t be any light shined on this issue that would not be beneficial to everyone involved…even for those who lobby.

  3. bowersville says:

    I remember as a child watching President Eisenhower travel by motorcade on his way to Thomasville, GA to a quail hunt. Dad took the photo’s which I still hang onto and show them on occasion. I think he rode in a big blue Cadillac but it’s hard to tell as the photo’s are black and white. The President probably didn’t pay his way either but I believe President Eisenhower would have been higher up on the celebrity totem pole than a GA SoS. But sometimes you take what you can get.

    Maybe if Kemp took to the local celebrity dunking tank for a good cause it would be different. But look at it this way. Only birthers would buy a chance at dunking Kemp. Nobody else recognizes him. [sarcasm intended]

  4. saltycracker says:

    When you are influential and someone wants to do something for you, the minimum intelligence required is to puzzle out why……maybe, just maybe, the beautiful gal trying to score got paid in advance to get ‘im done.

    For those among us that excuse public officials claiming naivete…..we deserve what we get.

    • saltycracker says:

      I like Ike too – if we’re gonna get specific – for a quail huntin’ trip, I’d go, report it & brag about it !

  5. janna says:

    Equally disturbing but somehow never gets any coverage, are the perks that agency big-wigs get at the expense of taxpayers. Weekend trips with State employees (usually on overtime) to carry bags, cook meals, and act as chauffeurs are common. It sickens me.

    • taylor says:

      I’d love to hear examples of agency big-wigs taking state employees on weekend trips. So, they identify agency employees that are good cooks (probably eyeing the leftovers in the breakroom refrigerator, right) and then travel – not to a hotel – but to accomodations that have a nice kitchen? I’m sure this is a common occurence.

      • Calypso says:

        I think janna doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘common’.

        widespread; general;

        of frequent occurrence; usual;

      • janna says:

        Okay, I will admit the word “common” was an exaggeration. Let’s go with “not unusual”. The weekend trips are to State owned locales like Sapelo Island, etc. State employees do the shuttling in state vehicles, arrange outings (fishing, hiking, etc). Trust me, it happens.

  6. Dave Bearse says:

    The fact that legislators are underpaid fuels acceptance of extravagant gifts with little concern for their origin and purpose, and contributes to per diem and expense reimbursement abuse. I support a legislative pay increase, and automatically indexing legislator’s pay to inflation, in conjunction with strict limits on gifts (maybe index the reportable value to inflation too). I favor higher standards in connection with per diem and expense reimbursement documentation as well.

    I favor requring more documentation connecting gift expenses to the associated lobbying objective, which is often not disclosed in lobbyists reports. Specific legislation or topics may not be discussed at meals or at entertainment venues, but it’s somebody’s money, and it’s being spent for a reason. I think many officials would be interested in knowing a stated purpose of the spending too.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      They’re ‘underpaid’ because they are part-time legislators. If they want to be full-time, then they can go right ahead and try to amend the constitution to that end. But don’t try to justify un-ethical behavior by claiming poverty. That argument didn’t help the guy stealing bread to feed the family, why should it help a politician?

      If you legislators are so poor – despite receiving two incomes in the vast majority of cases, not to mention any income a spouse might contribute – then perhaps you need to find other occupations.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Nary a word of justification, nor one of excuse, or mentioning poverty.

        I just think that most of the time you’re going to get what you pay for.

  7. saltycracker says:

    Pay has nothing to do with this. Doubling it will not change a thing.
    Removing the incentives will. Stopping obsessing with picking winners and loosers will. Overhauling the tax code will. Stopping the daily intro of some law to “fix” another law will.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      I think it would, because it would widen the pool of candidates, which is different than saying increasing pay will cause a cheat to discontinue cheating.

      “Stopping obsessing with picking winners and loosers will. Overhauling the tax code will. Stopping the daily intro of some law to “fix” another law will.”

      No connection on those counts to changing a culture of per diem and expense reimbursement abuse.

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