In all fairness, Gov. Nathan Deal – and, in fact, any new Georgia governor – faces a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum in connection with marking their inauguration as the state’s chief executive, and the issue of whether public or private resources are used to fund any festivities associated with their taking the oath of office.
Certainly, using any public dollars for what would, in effect, be a party for a new governor and his supporters would be problematic. That’s particularly true in the currently stagnated economy, which finds state government laying off employees even in its core services, such as public higher education.
So, insofar as Deal followed the lead set by his predecessor Sonny Perdue in eschewing public dollars for an inaugural celebration, he deserves some credit for not dipping into taxpayers’ wallets to fund a party which – let’s face it – most taxpayers either wouldn’t or couldn’t attend.
That’s not to say, however, that the private-funding route isn’t without its own set of problems. As reported late last week in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Deal “raised more than $1.7 million for his inauguration and transition, with more than half the donors being affiliated with lobbyists.”
Of that total, according to the AJC, $1.25 million went to Deal’s “January swearing-in, his May inaugural celebration, salaries, security and other costs ... .” The money also covered all of the state’s other newly elected constitutional officers – officials whose roles are specifically noted in the state constitution.
The operative phrase in the Atlanta newspaper’s story is, of course, the fact of “more than half the donors being affiliated with lobbyists.” Among the donors, according to the Journal-Constitution, were AT&T, the road-building C.W. Matthews Contracting Co., CIGNA insurance and Georgia Power – all of whom ponied up the maximum $50,000, a cap imposed by Deal.
In all, according to the AJC story, at least 100 of the 170 donors to the inaugural and transition funds either “employ, or are associated with, lobbyists and lobbying firms advocating on their behalf before state government.”
Of course, it’s possible to see those donations as mere expressions of goodwill, with major corporations and others doing business in the state not wanting to do anything more than extend a courtesy to the governor.
After all, corporations and individuals often lend monetary and in-kind support to charitable causes in a spirit of good citizenship.
It would, however, be a mistake not to consider the possibility, if not the likelihood, that the corporations and individuals who wrote checks to Deal’s inaugural and transition efforts did so in the hope, if not the knowledge, that their largess wouldn’t go unnoticed when legislation or policy issues in which they had an interest landed on the governor’s desk.
Sure, it’s possible to see the corporate and individual financial support extended to Deal as he assumed the governorship as something that might have saved Georgia taxpayers some money, but it would be foolhardy not to wonder what that support might end up costing taxpayers in terms of legislative and executive decisions made on behalf of those supporters by the state government.
It’s hard to begrudge anyone who’s made it to a top post in state government wanting to host a party for friends and supporters, but it may be that the best way of doing that would be for the newly elected official to host any such gala with his or her own money, or at least with money that’s clearly not intended to buy influence in the halls of government.