Legislators and statewide elected officials have scheduled cocktail receptions, dinners, lunches and even breakfasts with donors in their districts and in Atlanta. And lobbyists complain that they have trouble shuttling between them all.
Politicians like to fatten their war chests in election years as a way to discourage challengers when the candidate qualifying period opens shortly in the spring.
The reason for the rush is state law prohibits collecting campaign contributions while the General Assembly is in session. Monday, at 10 a.m., the cash flow stops until whenever the legislature gets around to adjourning.
“It just goes to underscore the importance of lobbyist funding in the process,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause of Georgia, an organization that advocates for limits on campaign contributions.
Getting a check to politicians right before they begin considering legislation is no coincidence, according to Helen Butler, executive director of another advocacy group like Common Cause that supports government funding of campaigns, the Coalition for the People’s Agenda.
“It definitely impacts how they behave because they are now obligated to whoever makes the contributions,” she said.
But other campaign-ethics experts hold a different view.
“I do not believe last-minute donors receive undue attention, and I have not really seen any donor attempt to time their donations so as to be ‘last in.’ That tells me the donors don’t see an advantage to that either,” said Stefan Passatino, a lawyer with McKenna Long & Aldridge who has represented several high-profile officials.
A former executive secretary of the State Ethics Commission, Rick Thompson, also doesn’t think political contributions sway politicians, even last-minute ones.
“The politicians generally don’t remember who was at which fundraiser,” said Thompson, who is now a consultant with R.Thompson & Associates. “I think it’s ridiculous to say that if I’m giving a contribution, I’m somehow getting more access.”