The freebie report: Questions linger about last night's legislative galas UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Friday, March 20, 2015

The freebie report: Questions linger about last night's legislative galas UPDATE

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2015 at 7:07 AM

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It wouldn't be Friday without a free lunch for the House in Doe's Back Room. Picking up the tab:

ARBEV (soft drink lobby)
Arkansas Cable Telecommunications Assn.,
Arkansas Manufactured Housing Assn.,
Arkansas Oil Marketers Assn.,
Arkansas Optometric Assn.
JWL Consulting

This is a "planned activity," which the legislature has decreed means they don't have to pay for their own food and drink. If you thought when you passed Amendment 94 in November you'd ended freebies for legislators, you thought wrong.

This sort of event may or may not be distinguished from the formal dinners and ball last night to honor the currently ruling Capitol monarchs — House Speaker Jeremy Gillam and Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, at the Marriott and Old State House respectively.

The Republican Party of Arkansas was the host. Neither it nor the legislative leaders have provided an explanation of how these dinners qualify for freebies. My best guess is that no lobbyist or an organization that employes a lobbyist technically wrote the checks. You are forgiven if you think the Republican Party lobbies for legislative outcomes.  On its face, the dinners suggest still more ways for legislators to get free stuff despite Amendment 94.

I also believe some special interest money was lurking pretty close to the surface of last night's events. A lobbyist of my acquaintance received an "invitation" from Ted and Julie Mullenix, both lobbyists, to "sponsor" the Speaker's Ball. He declined their kind offer. Would a check written as a contribution to the Republican Party by a lobbyist — reported as a political contribution to the party but meant to offset free dining for legislators — be legal under Amendment 94. The legislators would shout a resounding AYE! The Ethics Commission? We shall see.

UPDATE: I have the copy of the invite. I'll post it on a later item.

I was disappointed at the lack of Twitpix from legislators last night. But I did find a couple from the speaker's gala:

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