Lobbyists spend $1,225 in month on new Ga. speaker

ATLANTA -- New Georgia House Speaker David Ralston is an advocate for ethics reform in the Legislature. But Ralston continues to receive free meals from lobbyists.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday that state Ethics Commission reports show lobbyists disclosed spending $1,225, or about $40 a day, on Ralston in January. The newspaper reports that most of the spending was for meals and refreshments.

During the same period in 2009, lobbyists reported spending $597 on the man Ralston replaced, former Speaker Glenn Richardson.

Ralston has called for ethics reform during the 2010 Legislative session.

Ralston said the spending in January was mostly because he previously was not well known to lobbyists who wanted to "visit and get to know me."

"I think it (the lobby meals) was due to renewing a lot of acquaintances and people who wanted to visit and get to know me that I had not gotten to work with in the past," Ralston told the Journal-Constitution.

Last January, before he became speaker, lobbyists only treated Ralston to two lunches, which were worth $43.35.

Richardson announced his resignation in December after his ex-wife accused him of having an affair with a utility lobbyist.

When Republicans met to pick a leader to replace Richardson, Ralston, was a reform candidate.

Ralston said since taking office, he's pushed through rule changes to make the House more open to the media and other reforms.

"The fact that I had dinner with some people didn't get in the way of us having some major reforms to the House," he said. "I just say, look at what I've done."

Trip Martin, founder of the firm GeorgiaLink and a veteran statehouse lobbyist, said he had dinner with Ralston recently.

"David Ralston was friend before he was speaker. Just because he's speaker now doesn't mean it's illegal to be his friend," Martin said.