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From Austin to New Orleans, lawmakers travel at the expense of lobbyists

Lobbyists pay for or reimburse lawmakers for trips ranging from the educational to the recreational, some of which show up in the lobbyists’ expenditure reports, and some of which show up in lawmakers’ annual financial disclosure statements.

Travel and lodging account for 12 percent of the money spent in lobbyist expenditure reports that include a beneficiary name from 2011 to 2012.

By cross referencing financial disclosure statements with the lobbyist expenditure reports, an Arizona Capitol Times analysis found examples of lobbyists sending lawmakers to an Arizona State University event in Austin, Texas, events hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council in Salt Lake City and New Orleans, and events hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver and St. Louis.

In 2011 and 2012, former Rep. Jerry Weiers topped the list of lawmakers who received the largest value in free travel, with two trips costing a total of $2,764. One in May 2011 cost $1,345. The other, in November of the same year, cost $1,419. The Arizona Game and Fish Department paid for both.

Rank based solely on total amount received Lawmaker Total amount spent on food lobbying
1 Jerry Weiers $2,764.70
2 Kimberly Yee $2,016.62
3 Tom Forese $1,833.95
4 Bob Robson $969.05
5 Al Melvin $969.05
6 Brenda Barton $937.57
7 Jeff Dial $860.36
8 Michelle Ugenti $851.36
9 Rick Gray $851.36
10 Karen Fann $634.00

The Game and Fish Department reports make no mention of the destination or reason for the travel, and Weiers did not list them on his annual financial disclosure statements.  All gifts or collection of gifts of more than $500 are required to be reported by law.

Weiers said that he was acting as a liaison for the Arizona Game and Fish Department at the National Assembly of Sportsman Caucus meeting for both trips, one to Pennsylvania and the other to Georgia. He said that because the conferences were business related, and because he was there at the invitation of Game and Fish, he didn’t think of it as a gift and so he never reported the trips on his annual financial disclosure statements. Weiers said he thought of the trips as part of his job representing the state of Arizona for which the state was paying the travel and lodging expenses.

“Quite honestly, I never thought of it as a gift. I looked at it as a state expense,” he said.

Sen. Kimberly Yee came in next, with a little more than $2,016 attributed to her, which resulted from one trip in May 2011, paid for by the American Federation for Children.  Yee said it was a school choice conference in Washington D.C. She was surprised by the total amount spent, saying that she didn’t think it would have been so much. Yee listed the trip on her financial disclosure statement, though as required by law she only noted that she took the trip and that it cost more than $500.

Rep. Tom Forese comes in third with $1,467 in free travel, attributed to two trips paid for by Arizona State University. In October 2011 the university sent him to Austin, Texas, costing $865, and in November 2012 it sent him there again, costing $969.

Neither trip was reported on his financial disclosure reports for the past two years. Forese said he received a notice earlier this year that the 2012 trip cost more than $500, and he should update his financial disclosure statement, though it slipped his mind afterward. He said he didn’t know the trip in 2011 totaled more than $500, but will amend that financial disclosure statement as well.

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