published Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Georgia colleges pay lobbyists $2.5 million

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    University of Georgia students enter the main library building on the first day of UGA's fall semester Monday, Aug. 18, 2003, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/University of Georgia, Paul Efland)

ATLANTA — The University System of Georgia and its 35 colleges had about 20 lobbyists at the state Capitol during the legislative session this year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The newspaper said the system’s lobbyists were paid about $2.5 million last year.

University system officials say none of the meals or gifts they provide lawmakers come out of the taxpayers’ pockets. The schools have fundraising foundations, which pay for what lobbyists spend on gifts.

The system says it needs the lobbyists to fight for state funding, provide the system’s views on legislation and answer questions from lawmakers about what’s going on at its campuses.

“If we were absent, the reaction would be, ‘Where is the university system?”’ said Tom Daniel, who has been lobbying for the system since the 1980s. “It is not just about the budget, it is not just about legislation, it is about being part of the process.”

Most of what the lobbyists spend goes for meals, sports tickets and promotional gifts. A group of schools pooled money and spent more than $2,500 on a dinner and reception for lawmakers who handle college-related legislation and budgets.

Some school presidents also visit the Capitol to tell lawmakers their priorities.

The system and the individual colleges and universities may be overdoing it, said Rep. Bill Hembree, R-Winston.

“Sure, the Regents should have some people. But when you get down to the individual schools and they come up and say, ‘I need this amount of money,’ that’s too much. Their mission can be accomplished with two or three people from the Regents,” he said.

Former University System Chancellor Erroll Davis said each school has its own needs.

“We are creating the future, and people need to know how we are creating it, how critical it is,” Davis said.

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