Lobbyists' Gift to Legislators: Lavish Lifestyle Lawmakers Say the Perks Save Taxpayers, Don't Influence Votes

Article excerpt

While visiting Southern California last summer, state Sen. David Klarich and his wife fished in the Pacific Ocean, then feasted on a $134 dinner.

The next day, the senator golfed at two championship courses, then dined in picturesque La Jolla.

Klarich, a Republican from Ballwin, didn't pay a dime for the excursions and meals. Lobbyists picked up his entertainment tabs: $1,030 over five days.

Reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission this month show that wherever the state's legislators go, lobbyists are sure to follow. At watering holes in the capital, golf tournaments around the state and national conferences thousands of miles from home, lobbyists and legislators spend time - and money - together.

A close look at one conference - the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in San Diego last August - illustrates the point. Twenty-four Missouri legislators flew to California, and at least 19 lobbyists tagged along.

"Basically, my job was to entertain legislators," said lobbyist Peter Vail, who attended on behalf of Golden Rule Insurance Co.

Lobbyists who made the trip represent major industries and well-heeled groups - hospitals, telecommunications companies, tobacco producers and real estate agents, to name a few - that have a stake in myriad decisions made by the Legislature each year.

For example, lobbyist Jorgen Schlemeier represents 46 clients ranging from the Smokeless Tobacco Council Institute to the Missouri Residential Care Association. He and another lobbyist paid $500 each to charter a deep-sea fishing boat for a half-day in San Diego so three senators and their families could snag some sea bass, bonito and barracuda.

Schlemeier said informal outings with legislators promote friendships, the key ingredient in successful lobbying. Because hundreds of bills compete for legislators' attention, "you've got to build a relationship, and they've got to trust you," he added.

A Question Of Influence

Critics say freebies taint the legislative process and should be abolished.

"Business is in business to make money," said Ken Midkiff, who lobbies for the Sierra Club in Missouri. "They don't spend money unless they expect some return on that investment."

Rep. Greg Canuteson, D-Liberty, is sponsoring a bill that would ban gifts from lobbyists. The House Judiciary and Ethics Committee will hold a hearing on the bill at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Capitol.

Legislators who defend lobbyist gifts say their votes aren't affected by a free lunch or outing.

"Because I go golfing does not mean there is undue influence involved," said Klarich, a lawyer who has been in the Legislature five years.

Klarich drew more lobbyists' money than any other Missouri legislator at the San Diego conference. The conference, held Aug. 8-12, included two days devoted mainly to social events such as golf and tennis tournaments. The next three days were jam-packed with workshops on such issues as block grants, workers' compensation and public-private partnerships.

Klarich billed taxpayers $2,077 for his air fare, hotel room, car rental, parking, conference registration and meals. His $1,030 lobbyist-paid tab included the fishing expedition, three golf games and five meals for himself and his wife.

Klarich's lobbyist-paid expenses were 51 percent higher than the next-highest total - $681 for Rep. Tim Green, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors. Green's total included one golf game and five or six meals for himself and his wife. Coming in third in the rankings was Green's North County friend, Rep. John Hickey, D-Bridgeton, with $619 in expenses for golf and meals.

Providing A Lifestyle

In some cases, lobbyists provide a lavish lifestyle that legislators would not have otherwise.

Green, for instance, doubts he'd have eaten as well without lobbyists' help. …