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September 14, 2013

NO MORE FREEBIES

ATLANTA —  One college football tradition in Georgia will soon disappear: Letting politicians into the stadium for free.

A new law taking effect next year bans lobbyists from giving Georgia's politicians free college football tickets, a rite as well-established as Game Day beer and barbecue in the football-obsessed South. As the season kicks off, lobbyists and lawmakers are squeezing in a few more free games before the prohibition takes effect Jan. 1.

Disclosure reports show that lobbyists have given Georgia politicians nearly $1,400 in college football tickets and related entertainment since the start of the season in late August. That's just the beginning. Last year, registered lobbyists shelled out more than $14,000 in tickets and perks at college football games, according to an Associated Press review of the spending reports that lobbyists must file.

Many lawmakers get tickets in Georgia because the Legislature controls the $6.4 billion higher education budget, including the roughly $1.9 billion that comes directly from state coffers. A free ticket probably won't swing a vote, said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. However, he described the tickets as just one part of the unchecked lobbyist spending that distorted Georgia politics.

"What happens is that it creates a culture, a luxury of lifestyle for our elected officials," Perry said.

Just having access to tickets can be a nice perk. Spending on football tickets accounted for just over 1 percent of the $1.3 million that lobbyists spent in 2012. That underestimates the value of the tickets considering most games played by the University of Georgia are sold out. Average fans cannot get inside a stadium unless they pay markups or have season tickets, which require mandatory "donations" and sitting on a waiting list.

Get elected to office, and you can go for free. UGA spent about $9,500 on tickets for public officials last year. This year, it's invited state lawmakers to an Oct. 12 game against Missouri. Tickets for that game were selling Friday from a low of $74.99 to a high of $1,127.50 on StubHub, an online ticket market.

"The current law is in effect for this football season. And we'll abide by it," UGA spokesman Tom Jackson said. "And the new law isn't going to affect us until next football season. And we'll abide by the new law."

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Only a shell of the 1909 Grady County Courthouse remained after the 1980 fire.

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Pictured from left are Wilma Kelley, DAR Membership Committee, Thomasville Chapter NSDAR; Florence Harrell, Charlotte Brown, Carol Lehman and Cheryl Mills, new DAR members of the Thomasville Chapter NSDAR; and Melody Porter, DAR registrar, Thomasville Chapter NSDAR.

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