From tenants’ rights to truck weights, how lobbyists in Georgia work for their cause


Lobbyists, Capitol staffers and visitors stationed around the third floor of the State Capitol outside the House and Senate chambers. (Credit: Beau Evans for State Affairs)

Last year, lobbyists in Georgia reported spending nearly a million dollars on hospitality and gifts for lawmakers, agency heads and other state leaders.

During the legislative session, lobbyists are omnipresent in the hallways and hearing rooms of the Capitol, sometimes testifying, sometimes listening and taking notes, and always looking to make connections with people who can influence the outcome of a bill.

Lobbying is a long-lived practice in state and federal politics, dating back to the founding days of America when people and groups advocating for their particular business and political interests did what they could to influence the first members of Congress. Now, as then, the main job of a lobbyist is to educate, inform and, hopefully, persuade government leaders about the issues and concerns of the special interest groups who hire them.

Georgia defines lobbyists broadly as anyone who works to promote the passage or opposition of a bill, ordinance or rule, or to help a vendor secure a contract. Those who get paid at least $250 a year or spend at least $1,000 on public officials in the effort are required to register as lobbyists with the state ethics commission. More than a thousand Georgia lobbyists representing 4,500 groups or associations did so last year.

A decade ago, after years of lavish and sometimes ethically dubious spending by lobbyists on Georgia lawmakers and executive branch officials, the Legislature set limits on lobbyist spending, and enacted strict reporting requirements.

Georgia law does not require lobbyists to report on their own compensation, though the ethics commission does ask lobbyist applicants if the organization they’re working for has agreed to pay them $10,000 or more. Other states, such as Indiana and Nebraska, mandate more extensive compensation reporting. 

“There still needs to be better oversight on compensation of and spending by lobbyists in Georgia,” said Aunna Dennis, the executive director (and registered lobbyist) of Common Cause – Georgia, a nonprofit government watchdog organization.

“Nobody ever says they want to grow up to be a lobbyist,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. “But the state legislators, most of them will tell you they could not function without lobbyists.”

He noted that Georgia’s part-time legislators don’t have the staff and resources they need to do research or to get up to speed quickly on a variety of issues. “So if legislators are going to be casting informed votes on many, many items beyond their own profession or what piques their interest,” Bullock said, “they’re going to turn to the people around them who do have a degree of expertise, and that’s going to be the lobbyists, or it’s going to be who the lobbyist works for.”

State Affairs talked to three veteran lobbyists who represent a range of clients, business and political interests in Georgia.

The corporate contract lobbyist

Arthur “Skin” Edge IV is a partner at GeorgiaLink Public Affairs Group, representing a roster of 70 clients that include CVS, Koch Industries, Georgia Power, Southern Gas Company, UPS, Warner Media, the Georgia Hospital Association and other groups representing the health care, automotive and beer wholesaler industries. 

The firm’s five lobbyists include three former state legislators, including Edge, who served in the state Senate from 1986 to 1996, and was the Republican minority leader for his last four years.

Skin Edge
Arthur “Skin” Edge is a lobbyist and former Georgia legislator. (Credit: Ross Henderson/JAMES Magazine)

Edge said having legislative experience “really gives you a very deep and good understanding of the process and how it works. I have found when I’m talking to legislators about a particular issue, they know that I’ve been sitting at the desk like they are, and have had to weigh the pros and cons, hear the arguments on either side, and make a decision. And hopefully we can give them the total picture, and then convince them that our arguments are better and our side of the issue is the way to go.”

Last session, Edge and GeorgiaLink represented the Georgia Forestry Association and its effort to pass the hotly contested truck weights bill, which increased the weight limit for trucks on state highways. The debate pit logging, farming and trucking groups seeking to save costs on hauling against city and county governments and the Department of Transportation (DOT), which warned that heavier trucks would cause more damage to already compromised roads and bridges across the state, and possibly cause more crashes due to increased stopping distance.

“That was a very tough issue,” said Edge. “We worked hard on both the House and Senate side, and had to lobby the executive branch as well, to get everybody on board with this.” 

Edge said he and his colleague, Jay Roberts, former director of planning at DOT, had regular meetings with Gov. Brian Kemp’s chief of staff and team throughout the session, and that Roberts, “considered a subject matter expert given his experience at DOT,” met fairly frequently with DOT officials, “talking to them, hearing their concerns, just trying to find some middle ground that everyone could live with.”

GeorgiaLink’s PAC donated $16,500 to Kemp’s reelection campaign in 2022.

GeorgiaLink lobbyists also met with key legislators, including those serving on the transportation committees in each chamber. And the firm sponsored several breakfasts and luncheons with legislative groups, such as the rural caucus, the women’s caucus, and the Black caucus. 

“We were trying to cover as many people as we could, on a bipartisan basis,” said Edge. “It gives you an opportunity to get in front of a large number of people very quickly. You get to talk about the issue, answer some questions. It usually doesn’t last very long, but it does get you in front of them. The legislator’s schedule is jam-packed – they’re in session, and then they’re running to committee meetings. So they’ve got to find a little time to grab a bite to eat. If we get the opportunity to sponsor a meal and have a word with them, certainly we like to do that.”

GeorgiaLink spent $12,400 on such meals for groups of legislators during the 2023 session, and $15,376 overall on hospitality for legislators through June of this year. Georgia law puts a $75 cap on spending on individual legislators per lobbyist per event, but does not limit what lobbyists can spend at group gatherings. 

On the last day of the session, the Legislature voted to pass an amended bill that increased truck weight limits for two years, a compromise that will allow lawmakers and DOT to take a longer look at ways to address and fund needed road and transportation improvements.  

top 10 associations or lobbying firms

Here are the top 10 associations or lobbying firms whose interests lobbyists represented and the amounts they reported spending on individual lawmakers last year:

  1. Georgia Chamber of Commerce – $28,233
  2. Georgia Automobile Dealers Association – $24,893
  3. Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association – $15,976
  4. Metro Atlanta Chamber – $11,882
  5. Georgia Trial Lawyers Association – $9,923
  6. Georgia Bankers Association – $9,591
  7. Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals – $9,096 
  8. Medical Association of Georgia – $8,302 
  9. Georgia Food Industry Association – $7,580 
  10. Cornerstone Government Affairs – $7,370

The in-house lobbyist 

Chris Clark is president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and a registered lobbyist. For the past 13 years he has led the chamber’s work to promote economic development around the state and to expand opportunities for small businesses, which make up 95% of the chamber’s membership. 

He’s also a key member of the Government Affairs Council (GAC), a group of 450 corporate, contract and nonprofit lobbyists who are all members of the Chamber and work closely with legislators and government officials throughout the year to develop legislation and make policy recommendations.

Chris Clark
Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, addresses Georgia’s elected officials, business leaders, and other guests at Eggs & Issues 2023. (Credit: Georgia Chamber of Commerce)

Clark said the Georgia Chamber has been advocating for business interests with city councils, county commissions, the Georgia General Assembly and Congress since its founding in Savannah in 1915.

“Lobbying is absolutely critical for our members,” he said. “The lobbying community plays a vital role in being able to move legislation through and to educate legislators, whether they represent a nonprofit or a university, a business entity or association, or my organization.” 

Clark said the Chamber currently has three areas of legislative focus: infrastructure, which includes roads and bridges, the ports, the electric grid, and health care; competitiveness, which concerns tax policies, tort policies and innovation policies; and workforce development, which includes the K-12 school system and state colleges and technical schools.

Over the past year, Clark and his chief lobbyist David Raynor have made regular appearances at numerous House and Senate committee meetings, study committee hearings, and policy conferences, presenting on topics ranging from the electrification of transportation to occupational licensing reform to providing more opportunities in state contracting for  minority- and veteran-owned businesses. The Chamber also convened a number of gatherings around the state to get lawmakers, state leaders and business people together to discuss issues on its agenda. 

Last month, the Chamber spent $21,000 on hotel accommodations and food for 26 legislators, and for Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King to attend its annual Government Affairs Conference, held at the tony King and Prince resort on St. Simons Island. Through June of this year, the Chamber had spent $26,000 on hospitality for state officials in 2023. The Georgia Chamber topped the State Affairs list of lobbying firms spending the most on individual legislators in 2022.

“Our approach to big policy issues is to deliver data-driven, thoroughly researched policy recommendations or positions based on input from a diverse variety of stakeholders,” said Clark. 

One issue the Chamber pursued during the last session was development of more affordable housing. It supported two bills aimed at increasing single-family housing stock, HB 514 and HB 517, legislation that grew out of a House study group on access to housing led by Rep. Dale Washburn, R-Macon, that Clark and his team participated in throughout 2022.  

HB 514 would have prevented local governments from extending moratoriums on new housing construction. HB 517 sought to relax local regulations on building design, from the color of a home’s exterior to the style of porches to the amount of vinyl siding.  

top 10 associations, lobbying firms or companies

And these are the top 10 associations, lobbying firms or companies on whose behalf lobbyists lobbied and the amounts that lobbyists reported spending on all lawmakers, both individually and as part of a group of legislators:

  1. Savannah Chamber of Commerce – $77,307 
  2. Georgia Automobile Dealers Association – $40,587
  3. Georgia Chamber of Commerce – $30,942
  4. Georgia Beverage Association – $27,431 
  5. Taylor English Decisions LLC – $27,019
  6. Metro Atlanta Chamber – $24,980 
  7. Georgia Bankers Association –$22,883
  8. GeorgiaLink Public Affairs – $22,666
  9. Georgia Transportation Alliance – $22,501
  10. Cornerstone Government Affairs – $19,513

The Chamber assembled a bipartisan coalition of housing advocates who came together during the session to support the bills, which ultimately did not pass. County and municipal associations protested that the laws would lead to cheap and shoddy housing. Clark said the Georgia Chamber and the coalition partners will take another run at affordable housing legislation next year.

The public interest lobbyist

Elizabeth Appley is a public interest lawyer who’s been practicing for 45 years, and working as a lobbyist in Georgia for 30 years, advocating for reproductive freedom, rights of people with disabilities, and a variety of issues impacting women, including domestic violence. She currently represents seven nonprofit clients. 

Appley files her required lobbyist report each month, listing her clients and her expenditures on public officials. For all of 2022 and 2023 so far, she has reported spending zero dollars on the legislators and state officials she meets with regularly.

Asked why, she replied, “Well, as an attorney, I focus on the facts and the law. I do my best to build relationships with legislators based on information, my credibility, my knowledge of the process, my integrity and fairness, my respect for them and for the process. And the resources are just not available to wine and dine them.”

Elizabeth Appley
Elizabeth Appley is a public interest lawyer who’s been practicing for 45 years, and working as a lobbyist in Georgia for 30 years. (Credit: Georgia Supportive Housing Association)

Appley said what her nonprofit clients can afford is primarily the work she does leading up to and including the legislative session. “They don’t have the resources to contract with me year-round, even though it’s a year-round job for me.” 

She said that during the session, the work is intense, and she routinely works long hours, until two or three in the morning. She usually meets with legislators in their offices, or in the hallways of the Capitol. “And I’m constantly thinking, ‘What else can I do to increase the odds of strengthening this policy, passing this bill, developing an amendment that will, you know, provide a way forward.’ It’s very demanding work. And when I’m not doing it, I really prioritize my family time. I work like a dog, but just to miss being with my children or my husband to go out for politicking. …No.”

Appley does make personal political campaign contributions. In 2021, she gave $600 to candidates, including $200 to Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, chair of the House Public Health Committee; $200 to Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, who serves on the Senate Health and Human Services and Appropriations committees, and $100 to gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. She made no campaign donations in 2022.

During the 2023 session, Appley focused on tenants’ rights legislation, an area she’s worked on for several years. Four years ago, she helped to pass a ban on retaliatory evictions, which prevents landlords from evicting someone for claiming their rental dwelling is unsafe or unhealthy. 

This year she pursued passage of HB 404, the Safe At Home Act, which requires that rental properties are “fit for human habitation.” It also prohibits landlords from requiring a security deposit greater than two months’ rent, and allows tenants three business days to pay owed rent and fees before an eviction can be filed. 

She organized a coalition of 33 advocacy groups to support the bill, and urged them to make grassroots calls and convene for a Housing Day at the Capitol to lobby legislators en masse. 

“We prepared written materials and did webinars and I briefed people at the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum on multiple occasions,” Appley said. “I used all of the conferences and meetings and opportunities available to let the public know about it, and obviously I was in touch with the media.”

The bill garnered the enthusiastic support of House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, and passed the House unanimously, with a standing ovation after the vote. Despite strong pushback from lobbyists representing property owners, it passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It did not get a vote on the Senate floor last session and is expected to come up for a vote next year.

Contact Jill Jordan Sieder on Twitter @JOURNALISTAJILL or at [email protected].