ATLANTA — Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, his chief of staff and their family members accepted a $17,000 trip to Europe over Thanksgiving week funded by lobbyists interested in building a high-speed train line between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn., according to state records.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the trip was the largest single lobbyist expenditure on a lawmaker since at least 2005. While Ralston said it was a legitimate working trip, ethics watchdog groups said it shows Georgia should cap how much money lobbyists can spend on lawmakers.
Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, said the trip helped him understand how European nations have merged rail and roads with commercial development. He said he took his family with him because the Nov. 21-27 trip coincided with Thanksgiving.
“I wanted to be with my family during Thanksgiving week and that was the only week I could go due to my schedule,” Ralston said. “I wanted to be with my wife and kids. I don’t apologize for that.”
The trip was funded by the Washington-based Commonwealth Research Associates. The firm has worked on plans for a magnetic levitation train to run between Atlanta and Chattanooga.