TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lobbyists have spent more than $500,000 on meals and entertainment for Kansas lawmakers this year, according to state data.
Kansas law prohibits lobbyists from making campaign donations during the session and limits their spending to $100 on lawmaker gifts. But it doesn’t limit the amount of food and drink a lobbyist can buy lawmakers.
Lobbyists have spent more than $500,000 since January treating Kansas lawmakers to dinner, drinks and other entertainment, The Wichita Eagle reported.
Data from the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, which tracks political spending, shows the biggest spender was the Kansas Bankers Association, which spent $26,135 on food and entertainment for lawmakers. The association fought with Uber during the session over insurance requirements for the ride-hailing service’s drivers. The Legislature passed the regulations favored by the bankers and then overrode Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto before passing a compromise plan.
Doug Wareham, a lobbyist for the bankers, said lunch and dinner times are popular because that’s usually when lawmakers are free.
“The meal literally has nothing to do with it,” Wareham said. “The value we see in it’s the time we have to spend so we can educate and inform.”
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which strongly opposed a plan to roll back a tax break for business owners, spent the second most on hospitality for lawmakers, at $20,139. The tax on business owners was scrapped from the final tax package.
Eric Stafford, one of the chamber’s lobbyists, said many of the lunches the chamber bought lawmakers this year cost less than $15.
“If you look at where we take people, a lot of time it’s a quick sandwich at Quiznos,” Stafford said.
Rep. Marvin Kleeb, a Republican from Overland Park who chairs the House Taxation Committee, received the most from lawmakers for meals and gifts, at $4,225 through August. Most of that, $3,960, was for food and beverage. Kleeb did not immediately return a phone message Monday.
Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, received $4,178, the second most in hospitality from lobbyists, with about $3,900 as food and beverage. He said the spending doesn’t influence his decisions.
“If a $25 meal buys me, then I’m too damn cheap,” he said.
Hawkins said dinner meetings with lobbyists on both sides of the issue were more about getting information.
“They want to talk to you. They want to share their side, and just to say no, I don’t think that’s right,” he said. “We’re up there to listen to all sides.”
But Emily Shaw, deputy policy director of the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes transparency and accountability in government, said it’s “naive to expect that there’s no impact” of lobbyists treating lawmakers to food and beverage.
“Why does anybody throw a party for somebody?” Shaw said. “It’s to build a positive relationship. So even if it’s disclosed, I think we have to expect that there’s intended to be a persuasive effect there. And then you want to say, why don’t we explore bringing that persuasion into a more regulated environment?”
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