Since getting caught up in the Fiesta Bowl scandal of 2011, Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo has been the Capitol’s gift ban crusader, repeatedly introducing legislation to make it illegal for lawmakers to take free tickets or meals from lobbyists.
Although he’s one of the loudest and most consistent voices at the Capitol arguing for a crackdown on lawmakers for accepting benefits from lobbyists this year, Gallardo still accepted free tickets to a NASCAR race and meals from lobbyists.
He attended the Phoenix International Raceway Subway 500 in March as a special event paid for by lobbyists for the raceway.
Gallardo originally categorically denied attending the event, but later said he remembered taking two tickets to take his little brother from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program to the race.
“I took two tickets to this race, but it doesn’t change my position: I think it should be banned. I think lawmakers should be prohibited and I’ll continue to push legislation to ban lawmakers or any policy makers from accepting these kinds of tickets,” he said.
Gallardo said in hindsight, he should have paid for his own tickets. But said it didn’t change his mind about making it illegal for lawmakers to accept gifts from lobbyists – and still sticks by banning everything from dinner with lobbyists, to lunch on the lawn or tickets to sporting events.
“There’s nothing illegal with (taking free tickets), but I think we should be passing legislation to stop it,” he said.
It is illegal for a single lawmaker to accept tickets from lobbyists to sporting events, which is covered under the state’s gift ban. But it is not illegal for lawmakers to accept tickets if the game is categorized as a “special event” where the entire Legislature, an entire chamber, caucus or committee is invited.
Gallardo attended the event in the raceway suite with free food and drinks as part of a trip offered to all lawmakers. It was attended by at least a dozen other lawmakers. He also noted he has attended an occasional lunch on the lawn, when various groups serve up free food for lawmakers.
In 2011, Gallardo was one of the 31 Arizona politicians to get wrapped up in the Fiesta Bowl scandal for accepting free tickets to college football games, and was listed as receiving $1,407 in benefits.
A lobbyist for Salt River Project also listed spending $45 on Gallardo for food and drinks in January this year.
And although that meal is listed on lobbyist expenditure reports for the first quarter of 2013, the special event isn’t.
Because the event was technically paid for by the raceway itself, and not the lobbyist it employs who invited the lawmakers, state law does not require disclosure about the event until the end of the year. It won’t show up on any lobbyist expenditure reports until January 2014.
But even when the firm is required to report that it hosted the event for lawmakers, it isn’t required to say who took the tickets, and Gallardo’s name will never appear on the report.
Last year, Phoenix International Raceway listed spending $7,296 on a similar event with no mention of which lawmakers attended.