There’s been some talk of heightened interest in legislative ethics, including window-dressing legislation, but it won’t stand in the way of lobbyist-supported balls for the leaders of the House and Senate.
The background: Voters adopted a constitutional amendment in 2014 to prohibit special interest-paid wining and dining of legislators. A few months later, lobbyist-paid balls worthy of a French monarch were thrown for the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore. A few soreheads howled. So, in 2017, the legislature took steps to pass a law declaring that political parties could not be construed as lobbyists and thus could throw “recognition events” for elected officials. Not only that, but the law stipulated that at these events “anything of value” may be given to public officials as long as the swag bags are given to all. Benjamins, for example, would be legal in the swag bags.
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The material here was distributed by the Arkansas Society of Professional Lobbyists to its members. The society “has been asked” to pass along these sponsorship opportunities, said an e-mail accompanying the material.
The Senate invitation says the upper chamber’s event will benefit Folds of Honor, which provides educational support to families of fallen and disabled service members, and Reboot, a nonprofit that helps veterans with home needs. These are noble causes, of course. But you still have special interests spending money to entertain and gain access to legislators and also earn appreciation as supporters of a senator’s designated charities. The House invite mentions only checks payable to the Republican Party of Arkansas.
If the money flows through the Republican Party of Arkansas, as was the case with payments for sponsorship of the governor’s inaugural ball, a specific accounting of contributions and expenditures for the events will not be possible, because the information will be embedded in the party’s general financial report.
The public is not invited to these events.