Look­ing for gold un­der the Dome

The Covington News - - Opinion - Jim Tudor Guest Colum­nist Jim Tudor lives in New­born. he can be reached at jtu­dor@aol.com.

“Don’t Tell Momma I’m A Lob­by­ist, She Thinks I’m a Pi­ano Player in a Bor­dello,” or words to the sim­i­lar adorned a but­ton that made the rounds at the State Capi­tol a few years back. Al­though funny, it re­ally did cap­ture the tone that many peo­ple may hear when the “L Word” is men­tioned. Ex­actly what is a lob­by­ist and what do they do? When my friend and fel­low Ro­tar­ian Pat Ca­van­naugh (yes they do al­low lob­by­ists in Ro­tary) talked about this a while back, he thought it might be in­ter­est­ing to have read­ers take a look at things un­der the Gold Dome from a dif­fer­ent set of eyes. Now that the Ge­or­gia Gen­eral Assem­bly is in ses­sion, let’s view the leg­isla­tive process from an in­sider’s view­point.

As I be­gin my 25th year work­ing in this mostly mis­un­der­stood pro­fes­sion, it’s im­por­tant for read­ers to un­der­stand more about both the process and what you can do to be­come more in­volved in the fi­nal prod­uct that comes out of At­lanta. I’ll cover ways to be­come a bet­ter in­formed “non-lob­by­ist” in a fu­ture ar­ti­cle.

What ex­actly is a lob­by­ist? They come in all sizes and in Ge­or­gia there are usu­ally about 1,000 or more of them reg­is­tered to lobby at any one time. Just like the leg­is­la­tors they are seek­ing to in­flu­ence and in­form, most are part-time, work­ing as as­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tives or per­form­ing other non-lob­by­ing du­ties much of the year. How­ever, when the sec­ond Mon­day in Jan­uary rolls around each year, we slap on our lob­by­ing badge and head to the Capi­tol.

Do we need lob­by­ists? While my an­swer might seem self-serv­ing, the an­swer is YES. The Ge­or­gia Gen­eral Assem­bly is both large and part-time. We have 180 House and 56 Se­nate mem­bers. Even if each mem­ber only sub­mit­ted a few bills, it means that more than 1,000 pieces of leg­is­la­tion are in­tro­duced. Did I men­tion that the leg­is­la­ture is part-time? Un­like D.C., with its hordes of staff and sup­port, things are much dif­fer­ent in At­lanta. Leg­is­la­tors have min­i­mal if any per­sonal staff/aides and the re­search staff is also small.

As a re­sult, lob­by­ists are of­ten the “go-to” source for in­for­ma­tion when leg­is­la­tion is in­tro­duced. Last year, for in­stance, our or­ga­ni­za­tion was in­volved in help­ing to spot a $11 mil­lion er­ror on a pro­posed fee, be­cause we un­der­stood that the fre­quency for which the fee was based was wrong. The leg­is­la­tion ac­tu­ally passed one cham­ber be­fore it was dis­cov­ered and cor­rected.

What about all the “han­ky­panky” you read about?

The vast ma­jor­ity of lob­by­ists are sim­ply, like you, do­ing their jobs and seek­ing to rep­re­sent their or­ga­ni­za­tions or causes to the best of their abil­ity. Whether it be lob­by­ists or mega-churches, only the bad ap­ples seem to get the ink.

How do I know what is re­ally go­ing on?

De­spite the say­ing, “There are two things you should never see made – sausage and leg­is­la­tion,” the re­al­ity is that as an ac­tive and in­formed cit­i­zen you re­ally do have an op­por­tu­nity to stay on top of what is hap­pen­ing at the Gen­eral Assem­bly be­tween now and when the ses­sion con­cludes its 40 leg­isla­tive days. It takes a lit­tle work, but technology has made it so much eas­ier to keep abreast of the process.

In a fu­ture ar­ti­cle, I’ll cover how to do this and some of the do’s and don’ts of af­fect­ing your elected of­fi­cials. Democ­racy is not a spec­ta­tor sport, whether you lobby for a liv­ing or not.

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