Posted by: audreybenenati | March 17, 2010

With dollars scarce, lobbying is intense

Less money spent overall but efforts this year are more focused

By Aaron Gould Sheinin

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It’s lobbyist full employment time at the General Assembly, or at least that’s how some old hands in the Capitol refer to this crazed period every year when the session’s top issues get decided.

…Consider: In January this year, as the session was just getting started, lobbyists spent $163,000 on gifts and meals for lawmakers. In February, the most recent month for which records are available, that figure balloons like a lobbyist bar tab to $347,000.

But for both months combined, a handful of bills have dominated the discussion and the dollars. Lobbyists involved in the telecom bill now headed for conference committee; a proposed tobacco tax increase; the governor’s plans to tap hospitals for more revenue; and a protracted spat over higher education spending have accounted for more than a quarter of all lobbyist spending.

…Cox’s experience illustrates one direction lobbyist spending can take. That is, it sometimes more closely resembles the cover-all-bases method. For example, Sean Collins, a lobbyist for Altria, the conglomerate that owns tobacco company Philip Morris, reported spending more than $35,000 on Feb. 1. His report filed with the State Ethics Commission doesn’t denote on whom he spent the money. It says the money went to “grass-roots lobbying” on HB 39, Rep. Ron Stephens’ plan to add $1 in taxes to a pack of cigarettes, a bill the tobacco industry opposes.

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