Within the Public Service Commission's halls, some of the country's biggest corporations -- Georgia Power, BellSouth, AT&T -- attempt to reap millions in profits by convincing commissioners to tack a couple more bucks onto your power, phone, cable and gas bills.
Besides that, the PSC plays referee to big companies warring with each other over access to natural gas pipelines, phone lines, and power transmission corridors. Again, millions in pure profit are on the line.
With so much at stake, corporate lawyers don't sit back twiddling their thumbs hoping the commission sees things their way. No, sir. They spend hours that stretch into weeks hanging around the PSC offices. They find sympathetic ears and get cozy with commissioners who are supposed to protect Georgia consumers -- not a corporation's bottom line.
Only one commissioner, Robert "Bobby" Baker Jr., has seriously tried to limit lobbying inside the commission. Last year, Baker asked the General Assembly to pass legislation restricting the amount of time lawyers can lobby at the PSC. Lawmakers let the bill die.
Still, it's comforting to know that elected officials of Baker's caliber still exist. Baker, a Republican, has consistently looked out for the interests of consumers on a commission unduly influenced by the corporations it's supposed to regulate.
Baker's Democratic opponent for the one PSC seat on the ballot this year, Mac Barber, has been a politician since 1948 and has served on the PSC for four separate terms since the 1970s. He's had a spotty attendance record and at one point resigned over allegedly improper campaign contributions (he was cleared of those charges). While Barber seems independent, he lacks Baker's grasp of complex regulatory issues.
Barber has been around for so long that the AJC's Cynthia Tucker once wrote he was "teetering on the brink of senility ... ." She wrote that 14 years ago, when Barber was 72.
But the octogenarian appears to be running a campaign based on name recognition, which amounts to a real threat for a Baker, who isn't a publicity hound -- just a stellar public servant.