ATLANTA, Ga. -- Demetrius Douglas was sworn in for the first time as a state legislator three weeks ago. Ronnie Mabra, likewise, was sworn in for the first time three weeks ago.
The night before both legislative newcomers took their oaths of office, they attended the Falcons playoff game at the Georgia Dome against the Seattle Seahawks-- each getting a pair of tickets for free from the Georgia World Congress Center, the state agency that runs the Dome.
"Was there a reason why?" Douglas asked rhetorically when questioned by a reporter at the Capitol Monday. "I wanted to see the game!"
Douglas, a Democrat from Stockbridge, walked away when we asked him to answer additional questions.
As we've reported, it's commonplace and perfectly legal for members of the General Assembly to take free tickets to Dome events. But it's rare for them to take the gifts before they even take the oath of office.
"They gave me a ticket. They gave my wife a ticket. That's fine. We took it," said Mabra, a Democrat from Fayetteville whose father played for the Falcons in the '70s. The timing was irrelevant, the freshman lawmaker says. And he says the gift won't influence him when he's asked to vote on legislation relevant to the GWCC.
"They invited me! I didn't ask" for the tickets, Mabra said. "It'd be different if I asked. They invited me."
Common Cause Georgia is among the groups backing reforms that would curb lobbyist gifts for lawmakers. "It's what we call the legislative lifestyle," said executive director William Perry. "(Legislators) get down (to the Capitol) and I think they forget about the folks back home-- and because they're being lavished with NFC championship tickets and things like that. I think a lot of them act against their better judgment but sometimes the gift is too much to pass up."
There is legislation proposed that would curb gifts to lawmakers. But the most prominent measure -- from House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) -- would apparently exempt gifts from state agencies. That would continue to make free tickets part of the game, even under ethics reform.