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A lobbying tradition: lunches on the lawn

During the first three months of 2013, lawmakers worked 44 days, during which there were 35 lunches on the Capitol lawn for everyone in the halls of the House and Senate or for members of certain caucuses.

That doesn’t include other breakfasts, lunches and dinners that lawmakers received from lobbyists away from the Capitol grounds.

The cost of the events ranged from roughly $200 to more than $35,000 and covered everything from catered banquets feeding all lawmakers, staff and interns to enchiladas for members of the Latino Caucus.

The most expensive lunch on the lawn was hosted by the Arizona Association of Realtors and cost $35,731, the reports show. The bulk of the expense, however, was on busing in Realtors from across Arizona and flying in a few leaders from their national organization, said Nicole LaSlavic, lobbyist for the association.

“It’s an opportunity for our membership to get in front of their legislators from their actual districts, and they’re able to discuss issues that are happening in-district and/or at the state level as constituents,” LaSlavic said.

While the association weighed in on a handful of bills throughout the legislative session, LaSlavic said it considers the free lunch on the lawn and the lobbying efforts to be two separate things, and the event is more for its members than for the lawmakers.

“I think we would be successful (in lobbying) regardless of the event,” she said.

Another popular and expensive lunch on the lawn is Aviation Day, hosted by the Arizona Airports Association, which features helicopters, planes and sometimes hot air balloons. The event cost more than $20,000, though many other groups, associations and aviation-related businesses chipped in to pay for it.

Michael Covalt, lobbyist for the association, said this year it didn’t have a lot of pressing legislation to weigh in on – the association registered in support of only one bill. In past years, members have been out in force to show their opposition to fund sweeps, including those from the State Aviation Fund.

“In years when we don’t have any hot legislation, we are out there trying to impress on the legislators the economic impact of aviation in the state of Arizona… and we think it goes pretty successfully.  We’ve got good turnout from the legislators and their staffs,” Covalt said.

See a searchable database of all reported lobbying activity for the first three months of 2013

Disclosure: In January, Arizona News Service hosted a legislative reception for all lawmakers on behalf of the Arizona Newspaper Association, which paid for the event. The cost is not reflected in the first quarter reports because the ANA is only required to file annual reports.

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