You’ve heard of destination weddings?
Read in the New York Times today about “destination” campaign fund-raisers for members of Congress, luxury events at ski resorts, for example. It’s legal.
Neither the lawmakers nor the lobbyists attending the events want to talk about them, even though such trips are permitted under the law. They allow members of Congress to hit hot spots like the Napa Valley wine country, famed golf courses and hunting preserves, as well as five-star hotels in Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, South Florida and even Bermuda.
Congress, after a corruption scandal that involved golf trips to Scotland and other getaways paid for by lobbyists, passed legislation in 2007 prohibiting lobbyists from giving lawmakers gifts of just about any value. But as is the norm in Washington, the lawmakers and lobbyists have figured out a workaround: Political campaigns and so-called leadership PACs controlled by the lawmakers now pay the expenses for the catering and the lawmakers’ lodging at these events — so they are not gifts — with money collected from the corporate executives and lobbyists, who are still indirectly footing the bill.
Only the richest state legislative candidates could try this on the state level by using campaign money for a fancy retreat that lobbyists would want to attend. But they still get their slop. The law allows them to receive gifts valued at up to $100 and there’s no cumulative cap. And there are still “educational” events to which lawmakers may be transported and hotboxed by lobbyists in between seminars on the evils of environmental regulation and the beauty of supply side economics. Also there are the famous “ticketed events” at which legislators with spare cash have bogus campaign fund-raisers to swap checks with their political party pals. Both parties do it, but Republicans perfected the art in the last campaign cycle.
A proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit all gifts to legislators by lobbyists, but it may not make the ballot because of a drafting problem. A grassroots campaign, Regnat Populus, may attempt to put the measure on the ballot independently. But if you ban lobbyist gifts, what about non-lobbyist gifts, albeit by interested parties?
Money, I’m afraid, is like water. It always finds an outlet.