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.
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
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.”