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Lobbyists Spend Thousands on Midstate Lawmakers | Politics

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Lobbyists Spend Thousands on Midstate Lawmakers

Capitol lobbyists spent thousands of dollars on midstate lawmakers in 2011, and they're on pace to spend as much or more in 2012.

According to reports filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, lobbyists shelled almost $37,000 on 12 of Central Georgia's state legislators last year.

The reports reveal that lobbyists bought meals, sports tickets and lodging for the lawmakers. The reports also reveal that the more power a lawmaker has, the more money lobbyists spend on them.

When the General Assembly is in session, hundreds of lobbyists spend thousands of hours on the third floor halls near the House and Senate chambers.

Every day, lobbyists pull lawmakers aside to discuss pending bills, and as the transparency reports reveal, lobbyists open their wallets and pick up legislators' tabs on everything from baseball and football tickets to motel and food expenses.

For example, the reports show that lobbyists spent $1,384 on football and hockey tickets for state Sen. Cecil Staton, a Macon Republican.

The reports also show that lobbyists spent other $1,982 on meals for Staton last year. Staton's overall total reveals that lobbyists spent $7,047 on him.

Staton, the Senate's majority whip, said through the Senate Press Office that he wasn't available for comment.

But Staton wasn't the Central Georgia lawmaker who received the most from lobbyists. That was state Rep. Larry O'Neal, a Warner Robins Republican who serves as majority leader in the House.

The reports show lobbyists spent $11,370 on O'Neal last year. Among other things, lobbyists bought O'Neal food, Atlanta Braves baseball tickets, paid his motel expenses and sprung for a few rounds of golf.

On one occasion, the Wine & Spirits Wholesale group picked up O'Neal's $646 tab for food and lodging. Another time, the Georgia Food Industry paid O'Neal's $429 lodging bill.

Despite their spending, O'Neal said lobbyists don't expect favorable votes in exchange.

"No," O'Neal said. "I've never had anybody just outright tell me they expected me to vote a certain way. They provide information. The good ones always make sure they provide us with truthful, verifiable information and that's pretty much the extent of it."

O'Neal said his vote's not for sale.

"If anybody anywhere thinks that my vote or support for anything can be bought with a dinner, then they probably just need to send somebody else up here in my place. That's not the case, never will be the case so help me God," O'Neal said.

Meanwhile, lobbyist Brad Carver works the halls at the Capitol. Carver lobbys for the law firm of Hall, Booth, Smith and Slocumb. Carver said lobbyists don't expect favorable votes in return for their spending.

"For me, it just offers an opportunity for us to get to know the legislator and truthfully, what that means on down the road is they'll at least listen to what I have to say," Carver said. "They may not agree with what I'm going to say, but they'll at least entertain me a conversation in their office where I can talk with them."

Last year, lobbyists expenditures on midstate lawmakers ranged from O'Neal's high to Rep. James "Bubber" Epps' low of $53. Epps is a Dry Branch Republican.

Rep. Willie Talton, a Warner Robins Republican, received $238 from lobbyists last year. It was the second lowest total among the 12 midstate lawmakers.

Others and their amounts include Republican Sen. Johnny Grant of Milledgeville, $2,155; Republican Sen. Ross Tolleson of Perry, $6,081; Democratic Sen. Miriam Paris of Macon, $469.

In the House, Republican Rep. Allen Peake got $2,572; Monticello Republican Susan Holmes, $2,628; Macon Democrat James Beverly, $533; Macon Democrat Nikki Randall, $2,361.

Musella Republican Robert Dickey took office near the end of the legislative session last year. There wasn't a disclosure report on file for him.




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