ATLANTA, Ga. -- At the State capitol, it would be hard to find a more popular lobbyist than Frank Poe. He's the executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center.
As we approach next year's legislative session, Poe's agency will be central to the question of whether the state should help fund a billion dollar football stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.
In 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles game at the Georgia Dome -- featurning the return of quarterback Michael Vick - was one of the most anticipated of the season. Records show that the Georgia World Congress Center gave away eight pairs of tickets to members of the legislature - valued at over $2600.
"This isn't something that lobbyists are trying to sell to legislators. This is something-- the legislators actually call the lobbyists and ask for these tickets," said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, which favors reforming ethics laws to restrict lobbyist gifts.
RELATED| Hefty price tag for new stadium
Since the start of 2011, our analysis of public records shows the World Congress Center delivered a veritable shower of Georgia Dome tickets at the state capitol. The accumulated largesse totals 227 tickets -- to events from Falcons playoff games to Monster Jam to Wrestlemania. Including some meals for lawmakers, it's all valued at $24,615.
Last winter, we spoke to lawmakers at the capitol about their acceptance of tickets from the GWCC lobbyist. Those who spoke with us contended the free tickets didn't influence their decision-making. "I took a few of my constituents with me and we had a good time," said Rep. Rashad Taylor (D-Atlanta), who accepted free tickets to see Wrestlemania.
"They're giving hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars in tickets, food and beverage. It's hard for anyone not to be influenced by that," said Perry.
Under pressure from critics, lawmakers took far fewer tickets to Georgia Dome events in 2012 than they did in 2011. Next year, those same lawmakers are likely to decide whether to pass legislation that would allow the World Congress Center Authority to contribute public money toward a new stadium.