AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Watchdog group goes whole hog

It wasn't so long ago that government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia cast a jaundiced eye upon the Wild Hog Supper -- the traditional, unofficial start of the General Assembly session where lobbyists and state officials rub shoulders over a barbecue buffet.

Now, Common Cause is looking to be a visible participant, promoting it as a way to keep issues of ethics in government in the spotlight and recruit new members.

The organization's suspicion of the Wild Hog was not without reason. In an era where the public puts the free meals, trips and trinkets lawmakers take from lobbyists in the same unseemly category as prostitution and unsweetened tea, the Wild Hog was something out of another epoch. Apart from the naked schmoozing of the political elite, the event was paid for by a shadowy group of lobbyists with large stakes in the upcoming session who handed out free tickets to every lawmaker.

Two years ago, Common Cause executive director William Perry described the event as "the starting gun for the lobbyist spending."

That was before intense media scrutiny and voter anger prompted lawmakers to curb their take of lobbyists' gifts. The reluctant urge to reform bled over into the Wild Hog, and in a fit of common sense, the organizers of the event last year transferred ownership of the Wild Hog to the Georgia Food Bank Association. Now, reportedly, everyone has to buy a $25 ticket to the event.

This year, Common Cause sent out messages to supporters asking them to pay $50 to attend a pre-Wild Hog reception and then join them in a show of force at the event itself. The price comes with parking, a reception with beer and wine (not available at the Wild Hog itself), a ticket to the Wild Hog and a required canned food donation.

No word on how tickets are selling, but board member David Poythress said a big showing by the group "sends a strong message to the members of the General Assembly that we are a serious organization with clear policy positions that must be taken seriously in their deliberations." Plus, he said, "it's fun!"

Poythress would know. A former secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate, he has probably attended a few Wild Hogs.

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Joyner’s column, AJC Watchdog, investigates topics in your community and Georgia.