Is it okay for lobbyists to wine and dine legislators? | News
ATLANTA -- State Rep. Kip Smith (R-Columbus) was arrested for DUI after reportedly running a red light on the same night he had dinner with lobbyists.
Police say he failed a breathalyzer test and was later charged.
He told them he had a beer at a Buckhead restaurant that attracts a number of local politicians.
The overall incident points to the broader issue of the relationship of elected representatives and lobbyists and what is called the influence factor.
There is little question legislators like to be entertained lavishly. It's completely legal as long as they follow the law.
Rep. Smith's official lobbyist filings showed breakfasts, dinners, golf tournaments, wine, tickets to Braves and Falcons games, and even concert tickets, running to more than $6,000 since the beginning of 2011.
Falcons tickets alone, which were given to Smith by a lobbyist, were listed at $656, while tickets to the Braves were worth $216. Concert tickets for Smith and his wife ran $90.
Over the last year, records show Smith has been taken out by more than 60 lobbyists, with one lobbyist entertaining the representative 16 different times with meals or events.
His latest reported dinner was in an Atlanta restaurant with three lobbyists and later that night he was stopped by Atlanta Police.
11Alive News tried to reach Smith in Columbus and at the Georgia State Capital but calls were not returned.
When it comes to why legislators are taken out, the law has leeway.
If the purpose of the entertainment was not directly tied to pending legislation, the lobbyist does not have to specify a reason. The operative phrase in that column of the report is "N/A" or non-applicable.
For the legislator, it's a free ride often with a spouse along.
Smith is facing at least one challenger for his re-election bid in November.