One veteran Republican lawmaker only wants lobbyists to have to disclose the price of what it costs to feed elected officials at luncheons and other events, not the actual cost of admission to the event that the lobbyist paid.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, has introduced House Bill 2038 to do just that. The law currently requires lobbyists to disclose what was spent for a politician or government employee to attend. For instance, if a lobbyist buys a table of 10 seats at a business group’s luncheon for $5,000 and invites a legislator as a guest, the lobbyist is required to report spending $500 on that lawmaker. However, Kavanagh’s bill would change the law so that only the price of food and beverages would be disclosed.
“It’s not really a transparency bill,” Kavanagh told the Mirror. He instead said his goal is to fix inequalities in how this money is reported.
Others don’t see it that way.
“We’re very confused as to why anybody wants this,” Joel Edman, executive director for Arizona Advocacy, a group that often lobbies for transparency, said. “Most of these events are not about the food and drinks, it’s about who you’re sitting with and who you’re talking to.”
Kavanagh introduced similar legislation last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey because it included a provision that exempted educational events from the definition of “gift” under Arizona’s gift clause.
This time, that provision is missing.
Tickets vs Food
Politicians are frequent guests at events where prominent speakers may be, usually with their admission paid for by a lobbyist or special interest group.
As Kavanagh sees it, it is unfair for two politicians who attended the same event as guests of lobbyists to have those lobbyists report spending different amounts on each politician, simply because one has a better seat, and thus a more expensive ticket.
A ticket near the stage may cost $500 but one in the back may only cost $100. So, instead of requiring disclosure of the amount the ticket cost, Kavanagh wants only the price of food and drinks reported.
“It’s just fair,” he said.
However, Edman sees it a bit differently.
Edman said it would be “misleading” if lobbyists reported spending only $20 for food for a lawmaker when $20 isn’t even enough to get in the door at such events.
Additionally Edman took issue with calling the differences in table prices unfair.
“There’s a reason why the tables up front cost more than the tables in the back,” Edman said, adding that these sort of events are usually about access to VIPs and so politicians can see and be seen with political players.
“(Lawmakers) at the more expensive tables have more options than the ones at the cheaper tables, so it makes sense to know… what it really costs them,” Edman said.
Kavanagh’s bill also states that the person or lobbyist who invites the officials is the one responsible for tallying up the costs and reporting the expenses.
Kavanagh was asked to sponsor the bill by the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Mike Huckins, a lobbyist for the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes critics of the bill look beyond it.
“It creates uniformity in reporting amounts for elected officials who attend events,” Huckins said.
Huckins said sometimes tables that are right next to each other can have vastly different amounts due to member fees and other things that can come into play.
As for the issue of access?
“Access is not a reportable expenditure,” Huckins said, adding that the bill is “trying to get this objective nature out of this particular reporting requirement.”
The way these dinners and luncheons are reported is fairly new, as well.
In 2013, the Secretary of State’s Office released a new lobbyist handbook which detailed how lobbyists or groups are supposed to report these types of expenses.
The handbook gives an example of what to do if a lobbyist invited five members of the legislature to sit at her $10,000 table of ten people.
The expenditure would include the actual cost of the table divided by each seat and not including non-legislators. So, each legislator would have $1,000 attributed to their name, according to the handbook.
Prior to the 2013 change, there wasn’t much guidance for how lobbyists should report such spending.
Huckins also stressed that the costs of food won’t be “lowballed,” and said the average cost per person at the events his organization hosts is between $50 to $100.