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
"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
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. …