Against the odds, a new bill has been introduced to ban free tickets from lobbyists for sporting and entertainment events.
A Senate committee gave preliminary approval to SB1060, which would prohibit lobbyists from taking lawmakers to sporting or cultural events. The action gave new hope to lobbyist reform advocates at the Capitol, who have been crying out for change since the Fiesta Bowl scandal rocked the Capitol in 2010.
Lobbyist reform bills have been introduced annually at the Legislature, and so far none has become law.
Last year, Republican Sen. Michele Reagan of Scottsdale introduced a bill aimed at providing transparency in lobbying, and creating a new commission to regulate lobbyists with a new Internet-based application for submitting lobbyist expenditure reports.
Senate President Andy Biggs and then-Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor were co-sponsors of the bill. Although it passed two Senate committees, it never came to the floor for a vote from the full chamber.
It’s a common scenario. Lawmakers introduce a bill to clamp down on what lobbyists can give to lawmakers, or require increased transparency when lobbyists buy lawmakers a meal, sporting tickets or pay their travel. The sponsor of the bill is widely praised, and the bill is approved by an initial committee. And then it quietly dies without becoming law.
Reagan is also the prime sponsor of SB1060, this year’s attempt to eliminate lobbyists’ ability to offer special event tickets to groups of lawmakers.
Though the bill passed the Senate Government and Environment Committee unanimously on Jan. 23, several lawmakers warned that they may change their minds if it comes up for a vote from the full Senate.
Veteran Capitol lobbyist Barry Aarons gave an impassioned speech before the committee. He argued that if lawmakers really want to tackle the issue once in for all, they should either not allow lobbyists to buy them even a cup of coffee, or they should not set restrictions on what lobbyists can give them and instead require full, immediate reporting of any gratuity they receive. Then, their constituents could decide if what they’re getting is inappropriate.
Either way, it wouldn’t affect the way he does business, he said.
But Aarons isn’t optimistic that lawmakers will take up a reform that large this year.
“It’s just one of those tough inside baseball issues that is very difficult for lawmakers to come to grips on,” he said after the committee hearing. “They don’t want to say it’s corrupting, but on the other hand, they don’t want to completely give it up.”
Republican Sen. Adam Driggs of Phoenix noted that current law prohibits a lobbyist from taking a legislator to a game or an event except if the lobbyist invites an entire committee, caucus, chamber or all 90 lawmakers. Reagan’s SB1060 would eliminate the exemption.
“It’s different when you invite everyone. I think the concern was an individual lobbyist would be rewarding a legislator for a vote, or working against the public’s best interest in a lobbying effort to reward someone. When you invite everyone — both parties, people that vote for or against a bill — it’s educational,” he said.
Driggs said some of the decisions he has to make as a lawmaker affect Cactus League baseball, for example.
“In the Legislature there are baseball fans, and there are people who don’t know anything about baseball. But they’re still making those decisions. So there might be an effort by someone who would, say, like to take the Legislature to a spring training game, so you can see the impact that spring training has on Arizona,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader John McComish also had reservations about Reagan’s SB1060.
“I don’t think it’s necessary. I think it’s overkill to have a scorched earth policy. I don’t see the problem that we’re fixing,” he said.
McComish argued that there should be more disclosure about what lawmakers take from lobbyists, but agreed with Driggs that many of the events he attends at the behest of lobbyists are educational — and not something he even wants to attend. He said it is part of his duty as a lawmaker to go.
“I would never go to a NASCAR (race) on my own. I would never go, because I’m not interested in that. But I did go because I was invited. I went and I learned a lot about it. When you go there and you stand there and you look at the hundreds of thousands of people that are there and go, ‘Whoa! This is something that’s really good for the state of Arizona.’ I did not know that. It’s one thing to look at it on a sheet of paper… it’s another thing to be there in person experiencing it,” McComish said.
But Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo, who has been trying to enact lobbying reform for years and is a co-sponsor of SB1060, is more cynical about lawmakers’ motivation for not approving changes to the system.
“It’s a good campaign issue, but lawmakers don’t want to stop taking these gifts… I just don’t see the Legislature anytime in the near future acting on lobbyist reform,” Gallardo said.