The Arkansas Senate is having an orientation session in Hot Springs today and what would be an orientation session without free food and drink?

The schedule includes lunch — no locale mentioned, though the session is at the Embassy Suites.

There’s also a social hour at the hotel and then a reception and dinner at the Oaklawn Jockey Club.

I’ve asked: Who’s paying for lunch? Who’s paying for the social hour (or is it a cash bar?) And who’s paying for the reception and dinner at Oaklawn Jockey Club?


I know. You might have thought Amendment 94, the laughably named “ethics amendment,” ended freebies from lobbyists and people that employ lobbyists (as the Oaklawn Jockey Club does.)

But those crafty legislators inserted a Mack Truck-sized loophole. The exception: “Food or drink available at a planned activity to which a specific governmental body is invited.”

The whole Senate has been invited to Hot Springs, so whoever is paying for lunch, social hour, reception and dinner is good to go. (If Hot Springs lobbyist Ted Mullenix isn’t involved or lurking, I owe him a bottle of Arkansas bubbly  for the Capitol view penthouse he’s planning to build.)

I’ve asked the Senate staff if we might be informed who, if anyone, is paying for activities today.

The legislature is not in full session yet, but it’s not too soon for socializing. On the schedule for the Senate this week is a reception at the Capitol Hill Building by the Arkansas National Guard and breakfast, lunch and a reception Dec. 13 at the Little Rock Club by the Institute for Justice.

The House has been invited to lunch Dec. 14 by Kindred Healthcare.


UPDATE: I owe Ted Mullenix no free bottle of bubbly.

A Senate spokesman informs me that Mullenix and Associates is paying for reception and dinner at Jockey Club. The social hour is the regular free social hour offered to guests of Embassy Suites around the country so is not viewed as something being provided to legislators. The Senate is paying for lodging for members and staff.

No word yet on whether there are full Senate events by other lobbyists as the meetings continue through Tuesday and Wednesday. Note: The Constitution nominally requires public meetings of the House and Senate. This session in Hot Springs — though apparently considered enough to justify free swillathons —doesn’t appear to be serious enough to require listing on the public calendar of either the General Assembly or the Senate beyond a single line this morning for “orientation.”

No word on who, if anyone, is putting on the feedbag for senators Tuesday night. It wouldn’t be like them to pick up their own tabs. CORRECTION: The Senate returns to Little Rock Tuesday evening. The final orientation sessions that day and Wednesday are in Little Rock, including committee assignments Tuesday afternoon.

Mullenix’s clients. by the way, include Oaklawn Jockey Club. And that ain’t all, if senators tire of talk of horses and casino gambling. Among other topics they could discuss, according to lobbyist filings:

Senate is free to have retreats. It would look better if they paid for their own meals. Or, if this truly be serious business, taxpayers of course could pay. But Ted Mullenix and Co. getting some private time in Charles Cella’s clubhouse, with the guests owing him for stiff drinks and some of those mammoth shrimp? Ethics it ain’t.