Slopping the hogs | Arkansas Blog

Slopping the hogs

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Before I give you an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article, I should probably say 1) there were undoubtedly plenty of Arkansas legislators at the conference mentioned; 2) you can bet Arkansas lobbyists were on hand; 3) Arkansas is so far NOT among the 37 states considering ethics reform; 4) neither of the major candidates for governor favor lobby reform, the Republican having recently been a lobbyist and special interest bonanza beneficiary and the Democrat having long been the corporate lobby's best friend in the legislature, 5) and, yes, you can wine and dine Arkansas lawmakers in ways that the favors don't turn up on ethics reports and the swilling DOES influence  votes. Now our excerpt:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In Kentucky, lobbyists can't spend more than $100 a year on any state legislator. Lawmakers must disclose the smallest courtesy, effectively killing the practice of politicians dining on a lobbyist's tab.

"No cup of coffee unless you want to read about it in the newspaper," said Senate President David Williams, who has served in the legislature for 22 years. "I could accept a meal if I were so inclined -- I'm just not so inclined."

Nearly 200 miles from home, Mr. Williams takes the stage at a resort here, looking over a crowd of Kentucky lobbyists and legislators jamming the bar and buffet tables, sponsored by some 90 companies and business groups paying $250 apiece.

The Bluegrass Social -- part of last week's National Conference of State Legislators -- doesn't violate ethics rules because it is open to every member of the legislature, and doesn't benefit one lawmaker over another. As states throughout the country tighten such rules, the annual conference for legislators from all 50 states as well as events staged by similar groups seem to have taken on importance for lobbyists as places to ply their trade.

About 1,000 state legislators, joined by 5,000 aides, lobbyists and others descended on the Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville for five days of seminars on governing issues such as tax policy and health care, pet evacuations during natural disasters -- and ethics overhaul. In their wake was a diverse group of lobbyists, touting causes such as the benefits of asphalt pavement and the proposed storage of nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain range.

Spurred both by Washington scandals and corruption allegations in state capitals, 37 states this year have passed or are considering ethics reform. Kentucky's rules came during the 1990s, after the "Boptrot" influence-peddling scandal led to the conviction of a dozen lawmakers and lobbyists. This year, Florida joined the list of states with "no cup of coffee" rules, which bar legislators from accepting free meals, drinks or tickets to sports events, and requiring full disclosure of any gifts from lobbyists.

"The whole relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists is much more distant now," said Tennessee State Sen. Jim Kyle, the Democratic minority leader who helped to draw up new ethics rules this year. "There's far less socializing and far more email."


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