AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Gov. Deal helps raise money from lobbyists for new committee chairmen he helped create

That didn't take long.

Two months ago Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, put out a list of new committee chairmen. The rejiggering was necessary after some moves by Gov. Nathan Deal. The governor gave a state court judgeship to the head of the House MARTA oversight committee, made the House Majority Leader a tax judge, and appointed the chairman of the powerful transportation committee to the job of planning director for the state Department of Transportation.

All of that created openings, some of which created other openings, and Ralston quickly moved to fill them.

Earlier this week, Capitol lobbyists got an invitation to a fundraiser Deal is hosting "honoring recently appointed House of Representatives Committee Chairs." Seven in all made the cut for the fundraiser, although there were others that could have been added.

The invitation says the August 26 Capital City Club event is sponsored by Georgia Optometric Association, and it was sent out by the law office of Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, who has been a House floor leader for Deal.

Ralston recently appointed Coomer transportation chairman, and for fund-raising purposes, his post should prove lucrative.

He replaced the man Deal named DOT planning director, Jay Roberts. During the past two election cycles, Roberts' campaign raised about $60,000 from road-builders and others in the transportation business, according to disclosure reports. That doesn't include money from lobbyists representing those businesses.

About two weeks after Coomer was named chairman, his campaign got a $1,000 contribution from Pittman Construction, one of the DOT's biggest contractors. According to campaign reports, Pittman, which was paid more than $200 million by DOT for road work between 2010 and 2014, hadn't previously donated to Coomer's campaign. Neither have several of the other leading road contractors in the state.

With legislative approval this year of a bill that could raise an extra $1 billion a year for road and bridge projects, contractors may be in a giving mood. And some lawmakers may think they need all the help they can get, especially Republicans who worry that there will be a political backlash in the GOP primaries against legislators who supported increasing taxes and fees to fund those projects.

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About the Author

James Salzer has covered state government and politics in Georgia since 1990.