I wrote last week that special interest groups lined up to provide three free meals a day to legislators during orientation, despite the new constitutional amendment that banned lobbyist freebies for legislators. They used the fig leaf that these were special events and that all members of the legislature were invited. Yes, you heard right. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are now special legislative events.
The hog-slopping continues in ever more inventive ways. Today, a lunch break was decreed a special event for purposes of pushing some free food down legislative gullets by a special interest lobby.
This arose at a joint meeting of the Senate and House
State Agencies Committees. City, County and Local Affairs Committee. Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) was chairing the meeting. She recessed for a five-minute break so legislators could eat a boxed lunch provided by a special interest group (I don’t know the identity).
The chair reportedly decided that a five-minute lunch break was a “special event” and, since all committee members were invited, no violation of Issue 3 had occurred. Issue 3 banned gifts of value by lobbyists, even a cup of coffee, but made exception for special events to which all members of a legislative body were invited.
Again: Told you so. The voter-approved amendment will be distorted beyond recognition unless the Ethics Commission codifies Issue 3 in a strict way to prevent it. One way is to require advance notice of special events and to require public information about them.. And perhaps to endeavor to say an event was something more than food and entertainment.
Imagine: Ted Mullenix of the Mullenix lobbying firm is in the Capital Hotel bar with Missy Irvin and a quorum of the Senate State Agencies Committee discussing matters of great importance. She declares a dinner break as a special event to which all members of the committee are invited (maybe even texting absent members just to let them know that if they can get in from Dermott or Cave Springs, they are welcome, too.) Done and done. Steaks and a bottle of Chateau Aux Arc are on Ted. All legal. Or so might rule Chair Irvin, if today’s special event boxed lunch is any guide.
The committee meeting today included some information about fire safety standards in Texas and legislative agendas of the Arkansas Municipal League and the Association of Arkansas Counties. I’d hoped the publicly funded government lobbies would know better than to attempt a subterfuge to buy lunch. (Correction: I had my agendas confused in an original post here with another committee.) UPDATE: Looks like the Association of Arkansas Counties was today’s host.
I’ve asked Sen. Irvin who paid and how she came to conclude this was a special event. If I get an answer, I’ll pass it along.
At last, have they no shame?
Long ago we knew the answer. Remember this the next time Scott Trotter, the former ethics advocate turned utility company lawyer says we should take into account in giving legislative pay raises that lawmakers have been restricted in acceptance of free swill by Issue 3.
PS — “Special event” is actually the old wiggle word nomenclature. This is what Issue 3 allows:
(v) Food or drink available at a planned activity to which a specific governmental body is invited;
If Box lunch break = planned activity then anything = planned activity.