There is a question you need to ask your legislators.
What is your justification for continuing the lobbyist events loophole from the “no gifts from lobbyists rule”?
The loophole allows state legislators to each receive thousands of dollars’ worth of food and drink each year from big lobbyists and their employers. The loophole creates cozy relationships between lobbyists and legislators. The loophole promotes big government as legislators listen to their new friends, the lobbyists, instead of you.
The no gifts rule was supposed to promote good government, but the loophole makes the rule a SHAM.
In 2013 the legislature proposed an “ethics” amendment which was adopted by the people in 2014. The amendment was a Trojan horse benefiting legislators with higher salaries and longer term limits while protecting their supply of free food and drink from lobbyists.
The legislation included a ban on elected officials receiving gifts from lobbyist and their employers … BUT the ban was a sham by exempting food and drink provided by a lobbyist at an event for all legislators, all Representatives, all Senators, or a committee.
There are so many lobbyist “events” for legislators that lobbyists often provide three meals a day and cocktails during a legislative session.
To add insult to injury – you pay legislators for meals they don’t buy. Currently you pay $59 per day for their meals and incidental expenses (M&IE). (The legislators also receive salary, mileage, and per diem for lodging.) Legislators do not have to spend any money in order to receive the meals payment. It is a flat payment just for showing up to meetings, no questions asked. In just seventeen days during a session a legislator can pocket over $1,000 in meals payments while not spending a dime. By the way, it is tax free.
What is the value of the meals and cocktails legislators receive from lobbyists? The sky is the limit.
Does every legislator go to every lobbyist event? Of course not. And some legislators insist on paying for their meal or not eating … at some events.
The legislature embraces the special events access for big lobbyists even though the cozy relationships between legislators and big lobbyist continue to be in the news.
- Cozy relationships between lobbyist Rusty Cranford and legislators led to criminal charges for him and legislators for bribery and corruption.
- Lobbyist Bruce Hawkins gave Senator Jake Files an unreported loan and when the matter became public the legislature had to respond to the public outcry by passing a law against such loans. (Unrelated to this, Senator Files resigned from office and pled guilty to corruption charges.)
- It was claimed in text messages that were a part of court records in the Jon Woods prosecution that lobbyists Ted and Julie Mullenix paid for Senator Jon Woods wedding rehearsal dinner. (Unrelated to this payment, Woods is now a convicted felon for taking kickbacks from grants to a private college. Woods is also the author of the “ethics” legislation that included the loophole for lobbyist meals and booze.)
- The large number of lobbyist events was an inspiration for Senator Jeremy Hutchinson in opening the exclusive 1836 Club which makes money from hosting many lobbyist events for legislators. Lobbyist events are so prevalent that it has become a significant money-making proposition for businesses hosting the events, (Unrelated to the senator’s business venture, he resigned from office after being charged with misuse of campaign funds. His name also pops up concerning Rusty Cranford bribery. He is a nephew of Governor Asa Hutchinson.)
Conduit hosted an event to recognize conservative legislation and conservative voting records and invited all legislators, BUT we support the adoption of the equivalent of a “no cup of coffee” rule for legislators. It is the better way.
TELL LEGISLATIVE LEADERS
Senator Jim Hendren, the next Senate leader and the Governor’s nephew has been trying to rebrand himself as an ethics leader. Ask Hendren if he will support an end to the loophole and get it passed early in the legislative session.
Representative Matthew Shepherd is the Speaker of the House. Ask him if eliminating the loophole will be a key plank of his tenure.
Ask both Republican and Democrat legislators whether they stand with you or with the big lobbyists and their money.
TELL THEM – END THE LOBBYIST EVENTS LOOPHOLE.
Example lobbyist event schedule This list appeared on the legislative website on February 2, 2015. We are using this earlier list because it provides a better view of what goes on. The legislature now only displays a list events covering a few days at a time.