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Food and beverages: Lawmakers benefit from lobbyists’ largesse

Buying lawmakers a meal or a drink is one of the most common ways lobbyists form relationships with lawmakers, and some lawmakers take more advantage of the free meals than others.

The food and beverage category accounts for 34 percent of the lobbyist spending that includes a beneficiary in the lobbyist expenditure reports for 2011 and 2012, according to an analysis by the Arizona Capitol Times.   While meals less than $20 need not be reported with a lawmakers’ name attached, many lawmakers still received thousands of dollars per year from free food and beverages.

When weighted to take into account both the number of meals and the total sum of the money spent, former Republican Rep. Amanda Reeve of Phoenix topped the list of food and beverage recipients for that period, with $2,851 reported on her behalf from 2011 to 2012 in 58 transactions. Republican Sen. John McComish of Phoenix came in second, with $3,357 spent on his behalf in 37 transactions.

Rank based on transaction count and total amount received Lawmaker Transaction count Total amount spent on food lobbying
1 Amanda Reeve 58 $2,851.06
2 John McComish 37 $3,357.72
3 David Gowan 48 $2,073.86
4 Don Shooter 44 $2,091.91
5 Andy Tobin 36 $1,823.66
6 Jeff Dial 29 $2,040.05
7 Steve Pierce 22 $1,706.83
8 Brenda Barton 23 $1,333.73
9 Kimberly Yee 18 $1,519.85
10 Al Melvin 21 $942.83

In 2011 and 2012, lobbyists reported spending $2,074 on food and beverages for Republican Rep. David Gowan of Sierra Vista in 48 transactions, making him the third most wined and dined lawmaker in Arizona for that period.

Gowan said that as an out-of-town lawmaker who spends four days a week in Phoenix away from his family, he tries to make the most of his time here, and does a lot of business and meets with a lot of lobbyists over meals. Besides having no family in Phoenix to eat with every night, Gowan said that as a citizen lawmaker, he doesn’t have a lot of spare cash to pick up his own checks.

“I’m looking for free food. I get (paid) $24,000 per year… I have to keep a place here, I’m away from home, I can’t keep a business up, and I can’t find regular work because I’m gone part of the year. It’s rough on us out-of-towners. I look at this as a duty and you shouldn’t have to starve to do your duty,” he said.

Republican Rep. Jeff Dial of Chandler came in sixth place for most wined and dine, with $2,040 worth of food and beverages that lobbyists reported spending on him in

29 transactions for the same period, but he joked that if they counted free lunches on the Capitol lawn — which are classified as special events and not subject to the same reporting requirements — it would be much higher.

Dial said that as a young, single guy who works hard, he often ends his days grabbing a drink or a bite to eat with people from the Capitol. Dining with lobbyists helps him stay informed and hear different sides of the issues, he said.

“The good thing I think is you hear all the sides of the argument out there, and people feel like you’re accessible,” he said.

He said he probably goes out with a lobbyist three days per week, and said that he feels obligated at times to rub elbows with his colleagues and lobbyists outside of the Legislature.

“The problem is it takes up a lot of time.” he said.

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