Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens is enthusiastic about attending conventions put on by the industries he regulates. He's attended the Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia beachfront get-together most every summer for the past decade, and talks about how important such events are.
Hudgens even told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month that he didn't have time to review every rate increase proposed by auto insurers. Instead, an aide reviews most of them and makes the final decision. “If he had to bring every rate increase into my office, I wouldn’t be able to do what I am going to do today, and that is to go down to the ‘Big I’ (insurance agents) convention and then from there go straight to the industrial loan convention,” the commissioner said.
The latest lobbyist disclosures filed with the state ethics commission show Hudgens has been busy the past month and a half speaking to groups he helps regulate.
Hudgens regulates the industry that provides industrial loans - typically small, short-term loans. Lobbyist disclosures shows the Georgia Financial Services Association paid about $180 for meals for Hudgens and his wife at the group's event in mid-May.
A few weeks later, it was off to the Georgia Oilmen's Association convention at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island. Hudgens' office permits the self-service dispensing of gas at stations. The Oilmen's Association lobbyist spent about $800 for Hudgens and his spouse to attend the convention in early June.
He was home for a few days and then hit the "Big I," insurance agents convention, also on Amelia Island. The group's lobbyist reporting paying $100 for Hudgens and his wife to attend an association dinner, where he was a speaker. Then the schedule called for Hudgens to head to Atlantic Beach, Fla. for the Industrial Loan Association convention.
The Industrial Loan's political action committee listed spending $6,645 on rooms for 10 legislators attending its convention, but didn't report any spending on the commissioner.
Last year, when he was seeking re-election, Hudgens spent his own campaign money to attend at least one of the conventions.
Having lobbyists pay such expenses is legal in Georgia. State lawmakers specifically exempted convention spending from lobby spending limits when they passed a new ethics law in 2013. Associations frequently pay for lawmakers and politicians to attend such events. Last year, lobbying groups paid more than $100,000 for lawmakers to attend beach conventions over the summer.
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