Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Big Swill is on for legislators at ALEC

Posted By on Wed, Jul 22, 2015 at 1:57 PM

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Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette tweeted today that six senators and five state representatives will be on  junkets to the American Legislative Exchange Council convention today through Thursday in San Diego.

They will not go hungry and not only because taxpayers (or ALEC) will pay for their plane ticket, hotel and meals. Arkansas lobbyists will be on hand for some value-added drinks and dining.

How can that be, you ask? Didn't voters in 2014 toughen the ethics law? For the umpteenth time: Not really. The amendment approved by voters, offered by Rep. Warwick Sabin but saved from certain death with cagey amendments by Sen. Jon Woods, provided the means for looser term limits, a huge pay increase and all kinds of work-arounds on nominal restrictions on lobbyist wining and dining of legislators. We saw it in the last legislature, when breakfast, lunch, cocktails and dinner were supplied on a near daily basis by lobbyists operating under a "planned event" loophole engineered by and for Republican Sen. Woods. We saw it again when legislative potentates of the House and Senate found a way to launder money raised by the Mullenix lobbying firm — long a leader in hog slopping — through the Republican Party to an invitation-only soiree worthy of Louis XIV. Public was NOT invited, though all meetings of the legislature are constitutionally supposed to be open.

And then there was this, added to "clarify" the law in the 2015 legislature, sponsored of course by Senator Woods. It was a little ol' legal addition to specifically provide that payments to attend conferences by national organizations — think ALEC, the Koch-backed conservative lobby that plants special interest legislation in the hands of willing legislators — are not considered prohibited gifts. And it goes on to say the exemptions to the wine-and-dine prohibition include "food and drink at events coordinated through the regional or national conference and provided to persons registered to attend the regional or national conference."

In other words: Legislator goes to San Diego to get indoctrinated by Koch-heads. It's all free, whether taxpayers or ALEC pays. But, what's more, lobbyists can attach themselves to the legislators like lampreys with credit cards and wine and dine them in high style, just as long as they get listed on the group's convention schedule.

See the ALEC meeting this week, specifically an officially sanctioned session Friday night in San Diego's historic Gaslamp quarter. Hosts? There's the Mullenix gang, with their well-used credit card. There's lobbyist Robbie Wills, a former House speaker, with his. Wanna bet gambling is on his mind given his lottery clients? There's cable TV man Len Pitcock. And there — THERE — is Gilbert Baker, a former Republican senator enmeshed in a bribery scandal that will send his old pal former Judge Mike Maggio to prison. Baker remains under investigation for funneling money from nursing home magnate Michael Morton and others to Maggio, Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood and a number of other judicial candidates, not to mention other favored politicians such as Jason Rapert. No one but Maggio has been charged with a crime, Maggio for cutting $4.2 million off a verdict against a Morton nursing home in return for campaign cash. Crime or no, the odor is stomach-turning. Baker was fired as a lobbyist by UCA, which returned a $100,000 contribution Morton made. It seems to have been part of several hundred thousand in checks suggested by Baker for Maggio. Supreme Court Justice Wood, UCA, tort reform efforts and other designees of Baker. 

You'd think legislators might not like to see themselves on a tab picked up by Gilbert Baker. You might think there might even be a lobbyist or two with higher standards. But you might confuse them with people of integrity. What happens at ALEC stays at ALEC. At least until it hits the statute books.

I have requests in to the Senate and House for the ALEC attendees. I will add all when I have them. 

PARTIAL LIST: The House said these were approved from the House: Reps. Karilyn Brown, Richard Womack and Mark D. McElroy. Approved by the Legislative Council from the House: Nate Bell and Bob Ballinger. This does not mean they are eating with lobbyists Friday, but they are eligible.

I'd like to see the tabs Friday night. A $20 lump crabcake starter? A $46 ribeye. A $10 side of asparagus? A loaded potato is another $10, but heck, some special interest or another is paying. Wine, for sure. Maybe a little tongue-loosener before dinner, too.

Note the invitation carefully cites the Sen. Woods party-down-out-of-town exception to the laughingly termed ethics amendment.

PS: Go here to read about some of the dastardly anti-environment stuff on ALEC's agenda this week. And if that doesn't send you to the Alka Seltzer, know that Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker will be speaking to ALEC this week.

PPS: I've been unable to shake the Senate's authorized list loose. But I'd also note that other Arkansas legislators are attending, based on Twitter posts, perhaps they are on the ALEC "scholarship" list. There is, by the way, a question on the drafting of Sen. Woods' ethics "cleanup" law. Are free steak dinners available only to those on "scholarship," but also to those who pay their own way or have a state subsidy, which covers meals?

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