The Star does its annual, after-session wrap-up today on how much lobbyists spent wining and dining our state lawmakers. The total reported to date tops $24 million and will likely rise by another $5 million reports Mary Beth Schneider. Hoosier Park spent more than any other lobbying entity, spending more than $570,000. Schneider adds that most of the money was spent on lobbyist payments and not entertainment, although there was a plenty of that this session. Here's a sample of how much some key legislators got wined and dined:
- Among Indiana's 150 legislators, House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, led the list, receiving more than $5,200 in trips and dinners . . . The gifts to Bauer included a $2,900 trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to speak to the Indiana Motor Truck Association, and two nights at a Washington, D.C., hotel costing about $1,100, to attend President Barack Obama's inauguration, courtesy of Roche Diagnostics.
- AT&T -- which had not courted Van Haaften in any prior session -- flew him to San Antonio for a Pro-Am golf tournament, gave him a $350 gift card for the pro shop, and hosted him and his wife at an inaugural ball in Washington, D.C. Altogether, AT&T lavished more than $4,200 on Van Haaften. Combined with another $100 in golf from Evansville-based utility company Vectren, VanHaaften received the second-most in lobbying largesse. The bill easily passed.
- One lawmaker, Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, found all of his smaller meals itemized in the reports -- 29 meals ranging from $4.25 to $83.23 -- totaled $713.67. All were paid for by a single lobbyist -- Joseph Smith of Baker & Daniels. Smith did not return phone calls, but Taylor said the meals were about friendship, not lobbying. Smith is a neighbor and college friend. Taylor said he's picked up plenty of Smith's checks, too. Still, he admitted some surprise at the total.
It didn't take Sen. Taylor long to get on the lobbyist gravy train. He's in his first elected term to the state senate and he accepted 29 meals from the same Baker & Daniels lobbyist? Pat Bauer's thousands of dollars in freebies is no surprise. He's used his legislative leadership position as a cash cow for years. And Van Haaften? What can you say. The guy has been bought and paid for by AT&T, pure and simple. Also, Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson tagged along with Bauer to the Motor Truck Association's trip to Puerto Rico according to the newspaper's database. Schneider just didn't single her out at least in the online version of her story.
Schneider's story notes efforts by Sen. Mike Delph to provide greater transparency in reporting of lobbyist expenditures on behalf of legislators. He wants everything with a value of $25 or more reported. Some states ban entertainment spending by lobbyists on behalf of legislators altogether, which is the preferred route. Delph has put his money where is mouth is by self-reporting such expenditures on his website.
As a former lobbyist, I'm very familiar with how the game is played. I've studied closely the reports filed by lobbyists that I have personally observed wining and dining certain legislators at expensive restaurants and handing out free tickets to them and their family members to Colts and Pacers games. I believe some of these high-roller lobbyists are flat out lying on their lobbyist disclosure statements. I distinctly remember giving Colts tickets to a legislator who gladly accepted them and then threw a fit when I reported them as a gift exceeding $100. I got the distinct impression from his reaction that other lobbyists didn't follow the rules and he didn't expect me to do follow them. There are some gaming lobbyists, in particular, who hang out at the Columbia Club who break all the rules on a regular basis and have no fear of getting caught.
Lobbyists are regulated by the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission, or as I like to call it, The Lobbyist Protection Commission. The commission members are appointed by lawmakers with a wink and a nod, who make sure the commission staff lacks the resources to do any real investigation of potential wrongdoing. I wasted my time filing a complaint once against a lobbyist who was obviously violating the law. The Commission refused to accept the complaint unless I filed it with enough copies for each commission member and the staff, even though there were no formal complaint procedures provided to the public to explain this requirement. After a behind-closed-door meeting with the lobbyist, the Commission dismissed the complaint without conducting any investigation to determine if the alleged violations had occurred.
Indiana legislators are bought and paid for daily by lobbyists through free sporting event and concert tickets, free trips, free golfing opportunities and free meals and drinks at the finest restaurants in town. The legislative leadership scorns lawmakers like Sen. Delph who want to air out the stench that fills the hallways at the State House. Until there is some meaningful ethics and lobbying reforms at the State House, the public has every reason to suspect that their lawmakers are up to no good on their dime.