Originally created 02/12/02

Lawmakers hunt, sport as lobbyists pick up tab



ATLANTA - Georgia legislators went quail hunting, took in ball games and even went to ground zero, the site of the terrorist attacks in New York, courtesy of lobbyists in the fall.

When it came time for them to mail Christmas cards to key constituents and friends, all they had to do was dig into the supply furnished by some of their lobbyist friends who haunt the Capitol's marble corridors pushing this bill or opposing that.

The data comes from disclosure reports that lobbyists are required to file several times a year.

The latest report includes activity through Dec. 31, but does not show how lobbyists have spent their money since the current legislative session began.

Rep. Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, was among those quail hunting in the fall as a guest of lobbyists, in this case the pulp and paper industry.

"We met with them at their meeting in the afternoon and then hunted the next morning," Mr. Coleman said.

He said the industry wasn't seeking particular legislation.

"It was purely defensive - just getting to know people. And one of my constituents actually ran the quail-hunting thing."

SP Newsprint Co. reported it spent $232 for the activity. Georgia-Pacific Corp. put its costs for the event at $485.

Rep. Alan Powell, D-Hartwell, accompanied by his two sons, was among the lawmakers enjoying Georgia Power Co.'s hospitality at sporting events last year. On the utility's dime, the trio attended the SEC football championship game in Atlanta and had dinner.

Georgia Power put the cost of the entertainment at $339.

The utility also provided Braves baseball tickets, Peach Bowl tickets, Thrashers hockey tickets and golf games to legislators during the period. Mr. Powell's was the most expensive single item shown on the utility's report.

Georgia Power spokesman John Sell said the company provides tickets to lawmakers "as a relationship-building tool. Typically, we would accompany the legislator to the event."

It's all so the utility can get the lawmaker's ear "if the time comes when we have an issue," he said.

Mr. Powell's perspective was different: "They know they ain't going to influence us by taking us to dinner or a ball game. A lot of these lobbyists, they want to go to the ball games, they want to go out and eat dinner. That's what most of it's about, in my opinion."

Pharmacia Corp. spent more than $4,500 flying three members of the House Appropriations Committee to its headquarters in Peapack, N.J., in October, and feeding and lodging them for four days.

Participants included Mr. Coleman and Reps. Butch Parris of Swainsboro and Mickey Channell of Greensboro. The appropriations panel makes decisions that potentially affect the state's drug purchases, but Mr. Coleman said the trip was not a junket intended to influence state policy.

"They did do a good little tour of their facilities and their research stuff, but what we did was piggyback a little bit, quite frankly, on it, and did another thing which we thought was very important," he said.

The "other thing" was to meet with some of the state's investment advisers in New York and other top economists. While there, they went to ground zero, Mr. Coleman said.

The Christmas cards for lawmakers came from the Community Bankers Association of Georgia, which said it spent $5,900 on the project.

"It's kind of a tradition," said Carolyn Brown, the group's executive vice president. "We select a Georgia artist who draws her rendition of the Capitol. We take her artwork and make Christmas cards - 100 per legislator - for their constituents."

With 236 lawmakers, that amounts to $25 per box.

The organization acknowledges it is watching the Legislature closely this year to see how Gov. Roy Barnes plans to deal with predatory lenders, those who prey unscrupulously on the elderly and unwary.

Some aspects of the legislation might affect legitimate banks, Ms. Brown said.

"Our preference would be not to address it on a state level but to wait and see what comes out of Congress," she said.