Stomach diplomacy: the way to a legislator's heart?

Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

From Juneau this week comes word that $15 isn't enough to buy a lawmaker a decent meal or a drink.

Actually, $15 is the limit under which a lobbyist can pick up the tab without having to report the expense. That limit was set in 2007 as part of major ethics legislation passed in the wake of the federal bribery and extortion charges involving former state legislators. Remember Bill Allen?

Like it or not, lobbyists feeding and watering our elected representatives is a long-standing practice, and certainly not just in Juneau. And for the most part, it's an accepted way of getting business done. Lobbyists can spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars in a legislative session wining and dining people we've elected (and elected on the promise of never selling out to special interests, right?).

No doubt, that with the barely new 90-day legislative session, our lawmakers feel pressured to cram every waking moment doing the people's business, even over a plate of halibut or a Porterhouse steak, if necessary.

Apparently, though, the $15 limit is proving to be an annoying distraction. Lawmakers and lobbyists find themselves at the table, looking at the menu and agonizing over how to do their business without breaching the $15 ceiling. Actually, nothing says they can't run a tab over $15; lobbyists would just have to report that meal. Then everyone would know who ate with whom.

Never mind the fact that it's Juneau. Seriously, at this time of year, everyone already knows who's eating with whom; who's drinking with whom; who's ... well, you get the idea.

The solution lawmakers are considering? Raise the reportable limit to $50.

We don't think so. That won't cover a meal and drinks for two in Juneau either. How about a $100 limit? Oh, wait, should that be $100 for a whole group or for each person at the table (or bar)?

Wait, here's another suggestion.

Leave the $15 limit and the reporting requirement where it is and put down the fork once in awhile.

After all, didn't our parents teach us not to talk and eat at the same time?

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