November 16-- Reporter Aaron Gould Sheinin of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports two high ranking Georgia elected officials, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams of Lyons have been treated to a high profile golf tournament at Sea Island by lobbyists. Cagle got the bennie this year and Williams last year, according to the paper.
"Lobbyists for a new for-profit cancer hospital paid more than $5,000 for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to play in a pro-am golf tournament on St. Simons Island in October, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.
Cagle, a two-term Republican and former Hall County state senator, was treated to the round of golf, a cocktail party and two free nights at the exclusive Cloister's resort, according to reports filed with the state ethics commission.
A lobbyist for Illinois-based Cancer Treatment Centers of America spent $5,000 on Oct. 12 for Cagle to participate in the McGladrey Classic, a PGA Tour event. Lobbyist Kathleen Nowak also reports spending $389 for Cagle's accommodations at The Cloister, a five-star resort. In addition, Robb Willis, an Atlanta-based lobbyist for CTCA reported spending $318 for lodging for Cagle on Oct. 11 and $225 for an Oct. 12 Cagle golf outing, the same day as the McGladrey Classic.
Georgia does not cap the value of gifts public officials can accept from lobbyists. But government watchdog groups, concerned about the influence lavish gifts might have on public officials' decision making, have for years asked state lawmakers to cap gift giving at $1,000.
CTCA has had recent business before state lawmakers. The company is building a 212,000-square-foot facility in Newnan with plans to open in September, a project made possible by 2008 legislation that created a loophole in Georgia law to allow out-of-state medical providers to operate in the state.
Cagle is on a state-sponsored trade mission to Australia this week and was unavailable for comment on his golf outing. His spokesman, Ben Fry, said Cagle was there to support the tournament's charity, the Davis Love Foundation.
William Perry, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, said incidents like this are why they and other groups are pushing for restrictions on how much lobbyists can give.
The Cagle trip, "doesn't do anything to benefit the people of Georgia," Perry said. "It doesn't educate him on public policy, it doesn't provide anything about working in the state Senate. It's only about currying favor for the lobbyist."
Fry, the lieutenant governor's spokesman, said it was "disappointing that some would attempt to distort his support of the charitable work of the Davis Love Foundation and economic development in a sad attempt to score cheap political points."
After the AJC asked Cagle's office about the golf outing, Cancer Treatment Centers of America amended its disclosure report to delete the $5,000 cost and replaced it with an expenditure of only $750 for the same trip. Asked why the report was changed, Willis said that while the company wrote a check for $5,000, "most of that is charitable donation. All [Cagle] got was a round of golf. He went by a cocktail party open to the players, sponsors and he got a round of golf out of that."
Willis said he spoke with the tournament director who told him that about 25 percent to 30 percent of the $5,000 was to cover the actual expense of the event and the remainder is passed on to the Davis Love Foundation. Willis said the actual value of the event to Cagle was $750. But if a person wanted to pay his or her own way into the tournament, then it would cost $5,000, which Willis acknowledged.
CTCA was wrong to change its report, said Rick Thompson, former director of the state ethics commission who now consults elected officials and businesses on complying with ethics laws. The $5,000 cost "is still the value. If everyone else is paying $5,000 and you're paying for an elected official to play, the lobbyist has to report the entire amount. It doesn't matter how it's divided up."
Holly Laberge, the current ethics commission director, called CTCA's reporting "sloppy," and said "if the $5,000 is the actual expenditure, they are required by law to disclose the expenditure."
"Yeah, it's messy," she said. "I would have some questions for them."
In 2010, CTCA also reported spending $5,000 for the same event, only that time the beneficiary was Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons.
Since its business interests in Georgia began CTCA lobbyists have spent tens of thousands of dollars on state officials. In 2008 CTCA convinced legislators to change Georgia state law to allow it to build a $150 million hospital. The company had sought approval for the change for more than a year, hired top-drawer Capitol lobbyists to push its bill and spent thousands of dollars flying lawmakers to cancer facilities and wining and dining them.
At the time Cagle received a $2,000 campaign contribution from CTCA, who also gave to leaders in the House.
The company had been barred from Georgia by the state's "certificate of need" rule, which was created to prevent an oversupply of medical facilities. It prevented out-of-state providers from offering health care services in Georgia.
The bill granted an exception to the cancer hospital, based on its promise that most patients would come from out of state. CTCA offers cancer treatment and alternative therapies, including spiritual guidance and nutrition."