Most Georgia voters are appalled by the realization that under state law, there is literally no limit on the value of gifts that a lobbyist can bestow upon a state legislator. And while many of those voters would prefer a limit of zero, as many other states have, they would accept a $100 gift limit as a compromise.
Unfortunately, a lot of state legislators don’t see a $100 limit as a compromise. They see the very concept of a limit as an undeserved, media-driven attack on their God-given prerogative to be wined, dined and entertained lavishly at lobbyists’ expense. In fact, it’s revealing to see them fight so hard to cling to gifts that they simultaneously claim to not really want much in the first place. Their behavior negates their rhetoric.
In the interest of good government, however, I’d like to try to ease fears under the Gold Dome by taking a few moments to explore what life under a $100 gift limit might look like.
Let’s imagine that you’re a legislator and it’s the opening week of the first legislative session with a $100 gift limit. Let’s further imagine two totally unrelated events: One, you’ve just been appointed to the House Banking Committee; and two, a banking industry lobbyist has just become a close personal friend eager to share the bounties of his expense account.
What impact would a $100 gift limitation do to that burgeoning bromance?
(For the record, I’m assuming it’s a bromance, and not a romance, because there may be legislative spouses back home reading this and well, you know.)
So let’s see how the imaginary workweek might go, shall we?
– On the first day of the session, my lobbyist gave to me: A round of golf at Chateau Elan.
Golf, we are told, is a great bonding experience. Total value of a weekday morning round at Chateau Elan’s championship golf course is $60, which leaves $40 to be spent in further bonding at the 19th hole. (As a certain legislator from Columbus learned the hard way, a designated driver might be a good idea for the trip home.)
– On the second day of session, my lobbyist gave to me: Two tickets to Monster Truck Jam.
Total value of two club-level seats, $100. (It turns out that’s a very popular freebie — last year, legislators accepted $1,350 worth of Monster Jam tickets. Apparently they like watching big things roll over and squash smaller things.)
– On the third day of the session, my lobbyist gave to me: dinner at Rathbun’s restaurant.
According to the menu at Rathbun’s, one of the city’s finer eating establishments, an entree of elk chop served with a blueberry demi-glace over a foraged-mushroom goat-cheese polenta would be $40. Not exactly meat-and-three prices, but not exactly meat-and three either.
You would need a full-bodied red wine to stand up to the flavor of that elk — may I suggest a glass of Terra Valentine cabernet sauvignon, 2009 vintage, at $19 a glass? Add an appetizer of hot smoked salmon tostadas habanero with crème fraiche for $9.95, and finish it off with a fine after-dinner scotch — let’s try the Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or at $17.25. Grand total? $86.
(I’ve heard it seriously argued by opponents of a gift limit that Georgia legislators aren’t paid very much (which is true) and that lobbyist-provided meals help them stretch their daily per diem of $173. But clearly, one can keep body and soul together quite nicely while remaining under the proposed $100 limit.)
– On the fourth day of the session, my lobbyist gave to me: a black silk tie from Neiman Marcus.
(Because you see, last night at dinner some of that “foraged-mushroom goat-cheese polenta” fell on the tie I was wearing, and we all know how hard polenta stains are to remove. So my lobbyist pal stopped by Neiman’s and picked out a brand new Robert Graham textured-stripe silk tie, just $98!)
– On the fifth day of the session, my lobbyist bought for me: A box seat at tonight’s Braves game.
And not just any seat. It’s in Section 113, right behind the Braves dugout and close enough to ask Freddie Freeman how his new contact lenses are working out. Total price: $91.65 for the ticket, plus $6.50 for a beer, equals $98.15.
By opposing a $100 gift limit, legislators and their leaders are in effect saying that the gifts described above — meals, activities and purchases that most Georgians will never experience — are just not good enough for them, and they want better. I’m sorry, but I find that remarkable.
– Jay Bookman