Richardson’s spectacular fall from power, culminating Thursday in his resignation from the speaker’s post and his House seat, highlights anew the culture of coziness between lobbyists and lawmakers in the Georgia Capitol. That culture is fueled by money, access to power and, some say, influence peddling that favors the lobbyists with the most generous expense accounts.
It has benefited not just Richardson, but other top lawmakers — including his replacement as speaker, Rep. Mark Burkhalter, and the House majority leader, Rep. Jerry Keen.
“The concern the public has is that lobbyists have unlimited use of their funds to get support from legislators,” state Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Atlanta) said Thursday, shortly after Richardson announced his resignation in a conference call with House members. Expensive trips, tickets and meals, Willard said, “go beyond what the public sees as being appropriate.”
Lobbyists have spent almost $1.3 million entertaining legislators and other officials so far this year, according to reports filed with the State Ethics Commission. But lawmakers routinely deny that such largesse buys their votes.