ATLANTA — University System of Georgia officials spent tens of thousands of dollars this year on football tickets, meals and events for state lawmakers despite a law banning many freebies for members of Georgia’s Legislature.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports records obtained through an Open Records Act request show that lobbyists spent more than $48,000 on state lawmakers through the end of November. A state law passed in 2013 prohibits lawmakers from receiving free tickets and gifts worth more than $75. However, that law also excludes public employees from being considered lobbyists.
The University System’s Vice Chancellor for External Affairs Tom Daniel said officials didn’t lobby lawmakers to exempt them from the ethics reform bill that was passed in 2013.
“We just want to follow the law,” Daniel said. “We’re just going to do as we are told.”
Some lawmakers say University System officials acting in a lobbying capacity should have to register as such and report their spending to the state.
“Anybody who is paid to influence public policy ought to have to register,” said state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus. “I am not sure being employed by the state should be an excuse to not have to register.”
In a statement, House Speaker David Ralston – who led the effort for updated ethics regulations – said Georgia’s ethics reform is working as it should and that lobbyists from the University System are different from those representing other entities.
“These state employees serve as an informational resource to legislators on matters pertaining to state government operations which occasionally may include meetings or site visits to public institution,” he said.
Despite the loophole in state law, the newspaper reports spending among Georgia’s seven most aggressive lobbying schools and the University System Board of Regents on state lawmakers has actually dropped. In 2013, the figure was roughly $65,000 and dropped to roughly $48,000 in 2014.