The Big Swill: There IS a free lunch if you're a legislator | Arkansas Blog

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Big Swill: There IS a free lunch if you're a legislator

Posted By on Fri, Dec 19, 2014 at 7:47 AM

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Followup  on yesterday's item about how a lunch break of the joint City, County and Local Affairs Committee was declared a special event by Chair Missy Irvin so that it could qualify as an exception to the new constitutional amendment banning gifts of any value to members of the legislature by special interests.

Sen. Irvin got back to me last night on some questions I'd asked about the ruling. The new amendment allows lobbyists to buy meals for scheduled activities to which all members of a governmental body, such as a legislative committee are invited. So a box lunch break was declared a scheduled activity and free grub was served.

Irvin said the serving of freebies was not her idea nor solicited by her, but worked out by the Association of Arkansas Counties, which had business before the committee (counties want more money), and the Bureau of Legislative Research. It was advice from both those entities that a free lunch was permissible, she said.

Well, sure. Ask an employee of the legislature or ask somebody who wants a favor from the legislature if it is legal to give freebies to legislators and it's predictable that they'll find a way to say yes.

The rush to keep up the same old hog slopping hasn't abated with the passage of the amendment. The emperors have never worn clothes at the Capitol and no amount of shaming will get them to put any on. I heard a wonderful story yesterday about a legendary grubhound's $500 lobbyist-paid dinnery. It included a king-sized to-go box for a midnight snack. That legislator is now a lobbyist himself.

But, there is this. You now have a scorecard to at least some of the slopdowns.

The social calendar for the 2015 session is already filling up rapidly.

The party starts with a Propane Gas lobby party at the Wyndham on Sunday night before the session starts Jan. 12. Beer distributors have their traditional opening night revel from 4:30-9 p.m. at the Next Level Events party room. ASU has muscled into the No. 2 night on the free party circuit.  Then comes the Arkansas Environmental Association (nom de plume for the air polluting industries' lobby). Other highlights include a free lunch from the Hunger Relief Alliance (yes, really) and a karaoke night thrown by the rural telephone companies. What's that old Animals' song? "Girl have you ever been hungry? So hungry that you have no pride?" Cue it.

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