THE BIG SWILL: Noble Strategies will slop legislative hogs for free tonight at Doe's. It's part of the already gaping exception the lobby has torn in the new so-called ethics amendment.
Just so you won't feel too sorry for legislators — who are about to get a fat pay raise and who just got a free pass to stick around for 16 years — remember that the so-called ethics amendment DID NOT end free meals legislators courtesy of special interest lobbies.
FREE BREAKFAST: 7-8 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Building (state-owned), courtesy of the Independent Insurance Agents of Arkansas, Lynn Zeno, the Arkansas Hospital Association and Bo Ryall.
FREE LUNCH: Noon to 1:30 p.m., Capitol Hill Building, courtesy of the Arkansas Telephone Association.
FREE DRINKS AND DINNER: 5:30 p.m., Does' Eat Place, courtesy of Noble Strategies — Ben Noble, Valerie Shively, Katherine Vasilos, Alex St. Amour and Chad Causey.
These freebies are being provided under the new amendment's exception for "events" for legislative bodies. Lobbyists are declaring free mealtimes to which all legislators are invited an "event" excluded from the ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators.
I think there's room for the Ethics Commission to draw rules that limit this practice. They need to do so. Because sure as the world, somebody will say there's a feeding EVENT for all legislators nightly at Doe's with an open tab. If only a select few happen to get the word at the right time, anything will go.
Some definition of event is necessary apart from a self-declared swillathon by a lobbyist.
At a minimum, I intend to continue publication daily of all free events on the social calendar. This information — maintained and distributed by taxpayer-financed staff members — surely will be open for regular review of the public, will it not? It ought to be made part of the daily calendar of the Arkansas General Assembly. As an official "event" exempt from the new lobbyist gift rule, it would seem to be required. Indeed, advance public notice of such "events" might be one means of determining whether an "event" qualifies for an exemption.
That case will be made to the Ethics Commission when it formulates rules to implement the amendment.
UPDATE: Cecillea Pond-Mayo, who handles press for the House of Representatives, provides a piece of good news on the transparency front:
The House has been exploring ways to make the events calendar public for sometime.
We began working with our web developer last week to put the calendar on our site.
House leadership is committed to transparency and the events calendar will be on our website before the Regular Session.