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Leaders Ignore Gift Ban

Gov. Nathan Deal with BHDD Commissioner Frank Shelp. Records show Shelp took at least $1,082 in meals from lobbyists in 2011. Gov. Nathan Deal with BHDD Commissioner Frank Shelp. Records show Shelp took at least $1,082 in meals from lobbyists in 2011.

Gov. Nathan Deal with BHDD Commissioner Frank Shelp. Records show Shelp took at least $1,082 in meals from lobbyists in 2011.

 

This article grew out of a joint project between The News Enterprise and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The investigation began in early 2012 with a broad analysis of state lobbying records and eventually focused on lobbyist gifts to the executive branch. It appeared on page A1 of the AJC on May 6, 2012.

By Chris Joyner (AJC) and Aaron Gregg (News Enterprise)

On his first day in office, Gov. Nathan Deal signed a lobbyist gift ban for state employees, but 16 months later, dozens of officials have taken thousands of dollars worth of tickets, meals and travel from special interests.

Executive branch officials under Deal’s authority took at least $25,000 in lobbyists’ gifts since the order took effect in January 2011, according to state records. The findings arise from a unique partnership in which a reporter from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution worked with Emory University’s investigative journalism class to review compliance with the governor’s order.

Their joint investigation found that some senior officials appeared to have close relationships with lobbyists. In one email exchange, for example, a department commissioner told a lobbyist, “Keep this btwn you and me.”

The governor’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, argued that “we’ve had, for the most part, strict adherence to the rules.” But in view of the AJC’s findings, Robinson said, Deal has reminded

department heads to follow the rules. “He expects everyone to comply with the order,” he said.

Among the lobbyists’ gifts:

● More than $1,000 each for two executive branch department heads in meals and other gifts from lobbyists representing state contractors.
● Nearly $1,000 in catered lunches for members of a Medicaid drug review board from a pharmaceutical company lobbyist, in advance of presentations by the company for new drugs.
● More than $3,000 by insurance and manufacturing lobbyists for out-of-town conferences attended by officials with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.

Deal’s executive order bans lobbying gifts in excess of $25 in the executive branch and admonishes officials to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

But a closer look found a lot of gifts slipping between the cracks of what sounds like an ironclad policy. The order does not cover Deal’s appointees to state boards. And the people his order does cover sometimes violate it.

Ryan Teague, Deal’s executive counsel, noted that the governor has no authority over departments headed by other elected officials, such as the attorney general or the insurance [continue reading]

Aaron Gregg is a recent graduate of Emory University where he studied music and political science. He studied investigative reporting in the Journalism Program’s News Enterprise in 2011-12. He can be reached at aargregg@gmail.com

Related: “Governor to Review Lobbists’ Gift Ban

 

 

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