Editorial

11/15/2012

Gifts for lawmakers should be put to rest

Georgia legislators are giving voters more reasons to question their ability to make fair decisions based on facts and actual need. They invite skepticism when eagerly accepting thousands of dollars in free tickets to sporting and other events from those on a quest for millions of dollars in state funding.

The Associated Press reported this week that a number of key lawmakers have accepted admission tickets to Falcons games, including tickets that give them access to expensive box seats. Since 2010, in fact, lobbyists for the Georgia World Congress Center, a state authority, have given away more than $42,000 in tickets and other freebies to legislators. Recipients include state Sen. Don Balfour, a Republican from Snellville who is chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. Over the past two years, he has pocketed $2,388 in tickets for himself.

No doubt the World Congress Center is trying to butter budgetwriters and policymakers up for something - namely, state assistance for a proposed $1 billion stadium. The Atlanta-based NFL franchise team doesn't feel the Georgia Dome fits its needs anymore and is campaigning vigorously for a larger stadium. It wants the state to help pay to construct it.

There are those that think it is no big deal, that it's foolish to think that men and women elected by voters to mind the state store could be swayed by thousands of dollars in free tickets. They brush off public criticisms with confidence - confidence that no one really thinks they are being bought off and confidence that the acceptance of what some legislators feel are perks of the job will have no bearing on any future decision they make or their success at being reelected to office.

Apparently someone thinks it means something, or else they would not be handing out free Falcons tickets to those who hold the state purse strings. Obviously they feel that, at the very least, it couldn't hurt any. Otherwise, why even do it, especially knowing the kind of fallout it would create?

Perhaps these lobbyists know that getting anything out of legislature will remain difficult during a time when the state can't even afford to fully fund public school education.

Members of Georgia's House and Senate can put a stop to all of this easily enough. All they have to do is create a law prohibiting the acceptance of any gift by any elected official, state or local.