With GOP backing, bill to reduce what lobbyists report spending on lawmakers passes House

By: - February 14, 2019 4:21 pm

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

A bill that would let lobbyists disclose only the price of what it costs to feed elected officials at luncheons and other events and not the actual cost paid for their admission to the event has been approved by the House of Representatives and is one step closer to becoming law.

The measure, House Bill 2038, is sponsored by veteran Republican lawmaker Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, and was mostly passed along party lines with Republicans voting in favor of the measure and all but one Democrat voting against it.

Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, was the sole Democrat to vote for the bill. He was not immediately available for comment.

Arizona law currently requires lobbyists to disclose what was spent for a politician or government employee to attend events. For instance, if a lobbyist buys a table of 10 seats at a business group’s luncheon for $10,000 and invites a legislator as a guest, the lobbyist is required to report spending $1,000 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 previously told the Mirror. He instead said his goal is to fix inequalities in how this money is reported.

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.

More than 300 people registered their opposition to the bill compared to 16 who signed in favor of it on the Arizona Legislature’s website. Almost all of those who signed on in favor work for various chambers of commerce across the state or are business executives.

Kavanagh was asked to sponsor the bill by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

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.

However, critics say it would be misleading if lobbyists reported spending only $20 for food for a lawmaker when the actual amount spent to entertain and influence the elected official was significantly more.

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.

The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce has said the legislation is needed to “create uniformity” in how lobbyists report on their spending for the same event.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.