ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers have been given thousands of dollars in tickets so they could watch football games, pro wrestling matches and monster truck races from a luxury box, state records show.
The Georgia World Congress Center gave away the tickets, and some of the recipients are on a little-known legislative committee that oversees the state authority, according to a review of lobbying records by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (http://bit.ly/SIw3P1 ).
The Georgia World Congress Center is seeking to boost its borrowing limit as part of a deal to build a $1 billion retractable-roof stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.
Some lawmakers defended their use of the tickets, saying it doesn't influence their decisions.
"I can assure you that a ticket to a Falcons game does not affect my opinion one way or another," said Republican state Rep. Jimmy Pruett of Eastman, a member of the committee overseeing the World Congress Center.
Pruett saw a Falcons-New Orleans Saints game on the World Congress Center tab ($328) and has received $480 in tickets from a lobbyist associated with the Falcons' owner, records show.
The 12 members of the Georgia World Congress Center Legislative Overview Committee have received nearly $9,000 in gifts since 2010, when key legislation was passed that set the stage for the proposed stadium, records show. They get first dibs on the coveted luxury box seats at the Georgia Dome, officials say.
In addition, the main lobbyist for Falcons owner Arthur Blank's AMB Group picked up more than $6,300 in Falcons tickets and other gifts for lawmakers in the past three years.
Lobbyists for the state authority have given away more than $42,000 in tickets and meals to state lawmakers since 2010. Blank and the state authority are setting the stage for a legislative effort to significantly boost the Congress Center's borrowing limit, a key step to ensure that the public can pay as much as $350 million for the stadium through Atlanta's tax on hotel occupancy.
The biggest recipient of Georgia Dome giveaways is state Sen. Don Balfour, a Snellville Republican who chairs the Senate Rules Committee. He accepted $2,388 in tickets since 2010, state records show.
House Speaker David Ralston accepted $1,704 in tickets from the Falcons, and his chief of staff Spiro Amburn took $164 in tickets to WrestleMania from the Congress Center, the records show.
The tickets give lawmakers insight into how the authority works, said Jennifer LeMaster, a spokeswoman for the World Congress Center.
"There needs to be transparency in the process at every step of the way," she said. "There needs to be dialogue, and we are not running from that dialogue."