Bill could shroud thousands of dollars in gifts to KS legislators

By   /   February 18, 2013  /   6 Comments

FOLLOW THE MONEY: New legislation could effectively shroud thousands of dollars in gifts given to state lawmakers over the course of a legislative session.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

TOPEKA — New legislation in the Kansas Capitol aims to help state legislators rake in more of the sweet perks that come with their seat under the dome.

Whether it’s a T-bone steak or a round of golf, it’s no secret that lobbyists love to shower Kansas lawmakers with incentives to foster political ties or sway legislative leanings. However, a new bill in the House would not only make it easier for politicians to accept bigger and better gifts, it would make some entirely undetectable.

The bill, HB 2314, was set before members of the House Elections committee Monday afternoon, and would allow individual lobbyists to give — and lawmakers to receive — as much as $500 in recreational gifts per calendar year, up from the current $100 maximum. Chris Carroll, who lobbies for AT&T, said as it stands now anything beyond the maximum must be repaid by the legislator.

“That happens quite frequently,” Carroll said.

Such gifts, he noted, can include anything ranging from tickets to a Chiefs or Royals game to a tee time at a local country club.

But, perhaps more concerning than expanding upon lavish perks — which would still appear in public records — is a portion of the bill that would bump up the threshold for reporting daily gifts from $2 to $15. Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, said if that rule had been in place last year, 26 percent of gifts given to state representatives and 21 percent of gifts given to state senators would have never been disclosed.

Rep. John Alcala

Running some quick math, Rep. John Alacala, D-Topeka, said it could allow each legislator to rack up more than $1,300 in undisclosed gifts over the course of a 90-day session.

“If you look at it, it would almost be a campaign violation through the amount that you could contribute,” Alcala said.

Additionally, the bill would increase the meal limit maximum from $25 to $50, and exempt the spouses of legislators, as well as any ground transportation, from gift restrictions.

Olathe Republican Rep. Scott Schwab, chair of the Elections committee, laughed at the idea of legislators raking in the big bucks under changes suggested by the bill. Schwab agreed with Ron Seeber of the Kansas Grain and Feed Association, who said the increases amounted to a cost of living adjustment.

“The thresholds were set back in the 90s, and expenses have gone up,” Schwab said.

Schwab noted that lobbyist contributions are important in a number of areas, saying that it helps fund travel

Rep. Scott Schwab

for legislators to attend and show support for Kansas athletic teams at such events as collegiate football bowl games, or to tour new facilities being constructed across the state.

“Should we pay out of pocket when we’re lucky to (take home) $12,000 a year as it is, now?” Schwab stated. He added that he has no problem discussing and adjusting the proposed $15 threshold, and said when it comes to recreational gifts, the important thing is simply documenting the expense. “I don’t think they (my constituents) care, they just want to know if you did it,” Schwab said. “I have yet to meet someone who sold their vote for as little as $500.”

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62.

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Travis Perry

  • Suzan Smith

    Any member supporting this bill, even Schwab – just sold thier vote!!

  • tbroeck

    Funny thing about the collegiate bowl games and the like. I mistakenly thought their job description was to run the state. Furthermore, if Schwab thinks $12,000 is a paltry sum, why did he run? Personally, I agree, about selling their vote. I’m not in favor of any gifts. Period.

  • Susan Jo Grassi

    What do you get when you elect garbage? More of the same!

  • http://www.facebook.com/carolyn.selvage Carolyn Selvage

    Hey mr. schwab you come live on my $4900.00 a year and then tell me how you can’t afford to go to ball games! Pay your own way and quit selling out your vote and that of the people who sent you there to work for us!

  • Staats

    The contradiction of legislators cutting budgets, especially schools, while voting in legislation to make their personal situations more comfortable bothers me deeply. Putting themselves first should not be the mind set of our elected officials.

  • Sue Greenleaf

    I believe there are many more pressing issues than this one facing the citizens of our great state. What is wrong with this picture, first the governor misrepresents money spent on class room instruction, and now we are worried that lawmakers should get better wine and more food from lobbyist. Come on Kansas, let’s take our state back. Put party affiliation aside and use some common sense.

    and by the way, tickets to the Chiefs games may not be much of a perk. Last I knew, people were leaving them in their coworkers back seats along with zuchini