Lobbyists spread the love on Valentine’s Day at the Capitol

Valentine's Day balloons and flowers are sold outside a convenience store on Feb. 14, 2021, in New York City. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Valentine's Day balloons and flowers are sold outside a convenience store on Feb. 14, 2021, in New York City. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images/TNS)

Nothing says “I love you” on Valentine’s Day quite like a nice dinner with your significant other at an expensive restaurant. Paid for by Capitol real estate, mining or health care lobbyists, of course.

Or perhaps chocolates from the air conditioning lobby and chocolate pecans from the contractors lobbyist for legislative staffers. Or lunch from the doctors lobby.

Valentine’s Day is, in many ways, just another day at the Statehouse. It’s a day when bills are passed, committees meet and lawmakers eat pricey meals paid for by lobbyists. It’s been that way for decades.

Some legislators, however, come from far-flung parts of the state, so lawmakers don’t always have time to drive home for a Valentine’s Day celebration and be back at the Statehouse for duty the next morning.

Last year lobbyists spent more than $4,600 on lawmakers and Capitol staffers on Valentine’s Day. Much of that was for meals for groups of lawmakers, as well as dinners for individual legislators or lawmakers and their spouses.

That’s way down from the more high-flying days of a decade ago, when special-interest lobbyists could easily drop $15,000 on Valentine’s Day helping lawmakers and their staff gain weight with meals and sweets.

But the General Assembly put limits on gifts from lobbyists in the early 2010s, so reported spending has been much lower ever since.

Reports on what was spent this Valentine’s Day by lobbyists won’t be available for a few more days.

But last year, four Realtor lobbyists and mining association representative Lee Lemke reported spending more than $300 on a dinner for Rep. Dale Washburn, R-Macon — a real estate broker when he’s not legislating — and his wife. They also reported paying for the dinner of Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Hiram, that day.

Terry Mathews, whose firm lobbies for a host of health care companies, from pharmaceuticals and public health to hospital giant HCA Healthcare, reported spending $124 on a dinner for Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, and his wife.

In all, lobbyists reported buying dinners on Valentine’s Day evening for more than a dozen lawmakers last year.

There were also plenty of group meals, as there are most days during the General Assembly session. Last year on Valentine’s Day, the Medical Association of Georgia, a doctors lobby, reported spending $448 on lunch for the Senate Republican leadership, while lobbyists for Wellstar Health System and the Realtors paid $850 for breakfast for Senate Republicans.

Another lobbying firm with a wide array of clients paid $849 for House Democrats to have lunch. And still another spent $356 on a meal for then-Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s office.

The contractors lobbyist reported spending $87 on chocolate pecans for lawmaker secretaries, while Lemke, the mining association lobbyist, reported spending the same amount on chocolates.