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AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Health care has become king of state contractors, and money flows back to pols

Almost a decade ago the Atlanta Journal-Constitution looked at which companies in Georgia received the most business from state government, and road-builders topped the list.

In fact, 12 of the 20 top state contractors - excluding those from the university system and other government agencies - were road builders, led by Marietta-based C.W. Matthews.

At the time, the state was going through one of its periodic road-building spurts, so it wasn't surprising. Road-builders have long been big donors to the campaigns of state officials, so candidates got a bang for the state's buck as well.

Today, health care dominates the list. Health care companies made up about three-fourths of the top 20 list in fiscal 2014, an AJC review found. That's also not surprising, because the state now spends about $13 billion a year providing health care to more than 2 million Georgians.

Like the road-builders, the health care industry provides a windfall to the campaigns of top officials, such as Gov. Nathan Deal. In an AJC investigation in Sunday's paper, we'll look at the connection between government contractors and the funding of political campaigns.

The issue was brought to light again by the recent conviction of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, who was convicted of strong-arming a contractor for contributions.

The AJC looked at five years of payment records to road-buildings, health insurance companies, medical providers, private prison firms and others and compared the top vendors to campaign lists. Read more in Sunday's AJC or on

A final note: the health care usurping of road-builders may only be temporary. While some big health insurance companies will stay at the top, the General Assembly this year passed a new transportation bill that will pump an extra $1 billion a year into roads and bridges. So companies like C.W. Matthews and E.R. Snell should be moving back up the list very soon.

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About the Author

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