Leaders, liquor lobby give big to Georgia legislator after DUI arrest

The liquor distributors’ lobby and legislative leaders have contributed big money to state Rep. Tom Taylor’s re-election campaign since the Dunwoody Republican was arrested and charged with driving under the influence earlier this month.

Lawmakers and lobby groups have contributed about $20,000 to Taylor’s re-election campaign since his April 7 arrest, according to disclosure reports reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Included in the contributions: $1,000 on April 19 from the Wholesale Distributors for Good Government, the wine and spirits distributors’ political action committee. The check came about two weeks after his DUI arrest.

Rallying around an incumbent in political trouble is not uncommon at the Capitol, where House and Senate leaders frequently re-gift contributions they’ve raised from lobbyists and the people they represent by donating the money to colleagues facing primary or general election opposition.

For instance, after Senate Banking Chairman Jack Murphy of Cumming got into political hot water over his involvement with a failed bank, Senate leaders and colleagues poured about $45,000 into his last two campaigns. He lost his bid for re-election in 2014.

“Our state is run by a bunch of smart alec frat boys who treat the legislative session like a 40-night keg party,” said William Perry of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs. “It’s no surprise they rally around a ‘brother’ rather than condemning his actions. This is one of the main reasons why public trust in government is so low, and why lobbying ranks dead last year after year in the professions people trust.”

Taylor’s campaign reported contributions from eight lawmakers in the past few weeks, including $2,500 from House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and $1,500 from House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton.

Ralston’s and Jones’ contributions came a few days after Taylor was arrested and a few days before the media reported the arrest.

Kaleb McMichen, Ralston’s spokesman, would not say whether Ralston knew of Taylor’s arrest when he wrote the check.

But he added, “Speaker Ralston continues to support Chairman Tom Taylor and his re-election campaign.”

Taylor is chairman of the committee that oversees MARTA.

The other contributions from lawmakers came well after the media had publicized Taylor’s case. They were from House Transportation Chairman Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville; Majority Caucus Chairman Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin; House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Chairman Don Parsons, R-Marietta; House Ways & Means Chairman Jay Powell, R-Camilla; House Insurance Chairman Richard Smith, R-Columbus; and House Economic Development Chairman Ron Stephens, R-Savannah.

The House Republican political action committee also gave $2,600.

Attempts to reach the chairman of the liquor distributors’ political action committee for comment were unsuccessful.

Taylor was charged with driving under the influence, possession of an open container of alcohol and speeding. He was arrested by city of Clayton police after being clocked driving 72 mph in a 45 mph zone at 2:45 p.m. According to a police report, Taylor blew a .225 blood-alcohol content on a breath test — nearly three times the legal limit — and was carrying a pistol on his hip.

He had four exchange students in the car at the time.

Taylor, first elected to the House in 2010, faces Tom Owens in the May 24 Republican primary. After Taylor was arrested, Owens, a former candidate for the DeKalb County Commission, called him a “disgrace.” Taylor said after his arrest that he would work to regain the trust of his constituents.

Taylor is a member of the House Regulated Industries Committee, which typically handles legislation involving alcoholic beverages, and he’s frequently received campaign contributions from industry lobbyists, and beer and liquor businesses. An AJC review of campaign records found about three-dozen contributions from the industry, adding up to about $20,000, since mid-2010.

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