Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chip Rogers and Mark Twain

Mark Twain famously said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” In this case, it isn’t a lie so much as a lack of truth that led to my blog post about Georgia’s Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers.

Based on news stories in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Macon Telegraph and a few websites based out of Atlanta, I wrote a blog about the relationship between Rogers and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). You can find that post here. I relied on information from those sources, which left many questions unanswered, for my blog. In fact, the second half of that blog was a series of questions those sources did not address.

I was after answers, and fortunately, I got them. Senator Rogers read my blog and contacted me via email. I was impressed by Senator Rogers’s approach. He addressed most of my concerns in his initial email and asked if I had any more concerns. I did and he quickly responded to those, too.

So, here is what you didn’t read in the AJC or the MT. It’s not quite as interesting as the insinuations contained in the original stories, but more informative. It also begs the question, “If Senator Rogers was so cooperative in sharing information with me, then why didn’t the original stories contain what I’m about to add?”

Senator Rogers was indeed registered as a lobbyist for PCRM, though he says he never lobbied anyone – and I believe that is true. His position listed with the organization was not that of lobbyist, but was listed as Director of Government Affairs. Being paid, but not to lobby is what originally put up my antennae, but Senator Rogers has a proper and understandable answer. Unlike the news articles, I’ll allow Senator Rogers to explain in his own words:

"The position was not of a lobbyist. The company registered me so as to make sure they were in full compliance with the law just in case I met with federal representatives. Any contact I had with members of the executive or legislative branch actually never met the requirements of having to register, but they were over-cautious and in this environment I cannot blame them.

Again, I did no work and was not paid during any time in which the legislature was in session and my work only dealt with federal policy pertaining to improving school meals to add more fruits and vegetables - a policy issue I strongly believe in."

Senator Rogers also informed me that he sought and received advice from the state attorney general on accepting this position. He received the all-clear.

Senator Rogers made it clear that he did not agree with all of PCRM’s positions, but his primary involvement was with the national School Lunch Program and the Farm Bill. Rogers does agree with PCRM on those two issues.

“They [PCRM] asked me to work on a part time basis helping them build coalitions and providing advice on legislation at the Federal Level. The two main issues I helped with included the re-authorization of the national School Lunch Program (created by Georgia Senator Richard Russell) and the upcoming Farm Bill - where they oppose all subsidies and prefer a free-market system to farming. I have always agreed with both of these positions and did so long before I offered to help.

Following the re-authorization of the School Lunch Program I felt my efforts were complete and I no longer do any work for the organization.”

So, why was Senator Rogers so interested in this project? How did he come to be involved in something at the federal level? He has a compelling personal story.

Rogers, despite being otherwise healthy and exercising regularly, had a serious cholesterol problem. Rather than rely on medicine, he got advice from a nutritionist and changed his diet. The change for the better was noticeable as Rogers decreased the amount of red meat and dairy products and increased his consumption of fruits and vegetables. His continued interest in diet as a major component of healthcare led to a mutual friend introducing him to the head of PCRM.

It’s really a simple story. Rogers worked with the non-profit organization PCRM to help improve children’s school diets. He was registered as a lobbyist just in case his actions at the federal level could have possibly been construed as lobbying. They weren’t. He never lobbied officials at the state level. He left his position with PCRM when the new school lunch program was completed. End of story.

This brings me to my second quote from Mr. Twain, "Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits." Some additional facts have proved Mr. Rogers's habits to be pretty tame, though with the scant information available in the press, I was jumping to conclusions quicker than a flea in a frying pan.

Now back to Mr. Twain's first quote. It looks as though Truth has finally finished those tricky double knots in her laces. And . . . she’s off!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chip Rogers in the 21st Century

Let me begin by saying that I don’t know Chip Rogers. I’ve seen him speak and have a vague recollection of being introduced to him at some point, but I don’t know him. What I’ve heard of him has been uniformly positive.

I also don’t think lobbyists are the devil incarnate. In fact, I believe that they can serve a useful purpose by supplying additional information to legislators. Having said that, Senator Rogers has some questions to answer.

Senator Rogers is a Georgia GOP state senator from Woodstock, and the state senate majority leader. He has also been the Director of Government Affairs for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

Rogers says that while he did lobby for the group, he only did so when the state legislature was not in session. The problem is that Rogers is an elected representative of his district, not just during legislative sessions, but year round.

Rogers last made the news almost exactly one month ago as a member of the cabal that greatly reduced the power and influence of Lt. Governor Casey Cagle. Given Cagle’s reputation, only the most na├»ve believe that the two stories are unrelated.

Whether or not it’s true that Cagle and his vindictive nature are responsible for this information being brought forward is immaterial. I’d like to know what Chip Rogers was thinking. This is 2010 and it’s far too easy for people to know what you’re doing, whom you’re doing it for and then releasing it to the public.

It’s not just a matter of doing the right thing, it’s also about being above suspicion. It’s also about elected Republican leaders shooting themselves in their feet, while they are trampling on the toes of their party.

I am not saying that Rogers has done anything illegal. Though questions have been raised, no one has made that accusation publicly. In fact, on the WSB news site, Rick Thompson, former executive secretary of the Georgia State Ethics Commission is quoted as saying that Georgia law does not stop elected officials at the state level from working as a lobbyist on Washington or in other states. If Rogers was an advocate for legislation that PCRM supported, then that is more problematic.

Still, Rogers dual responsibilities begs some pertinent questions. If I were able to interview Senator Rogers, this is what I would like to know:

1. When did you begin and end lobbying for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine?
a. Why did that relationship end?
b. Who approached whom about lobbying?
c. How much were you paid?
d. Which specific bills and issues did you lobby for or against and whom did you lobby?
2. Have you ever, before or since becoming a legislator, lobbied for any other business or organization?
3. Did you make your fellow legislators aware that you were also a paid lobbyist?
4. You stated that you were not paid by PCRM during the session, but did you encourage passage of bills PCRM supported during the session?
5. Did you vote on legislation which you lobbied other legislators to pass or to vote down?
6. Did you use funds from PCRM to buy meals or gifts for your fellow legislators?
7. Do you believe you broke any laws by accepting pay to be a lobbyist while being a representative of your district?
a. Do you believe it was immoral or unethical?
b. Do you understand why some would see it was unethical?
8. Would you favor legislation making what you did illegal? If so, will you introduce or support that legislation?
9. When do you think Lt. Governor Casey Cagle leaked this information?
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