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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Feeding State Legislators

Our chapter on interest groups discusses ways in which lobbyists seek to influence officials.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

While members of the Missouri Legislature are sequestered in Jefferson City, they work long hours but rarely go hungry, thanks to a dedicated corps of lobbyists and interest groups that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on food.

Lobbyists typically spend more than $400,000 a year feeding groups of lawmakers, buying food virtually every day the House and Senate meet.

During the 4½-month session that ends in May, it is difficult to walk through the Capitol and not see a trade association or government relations firm feeding lawmakers breakfast, lunch or late-afternoon snacks.


Lobbyists who buy food for lawmakers aren't necessarily seeking a quid pro quo, — "a pork steak for a vote" — said John Messmer, a professor of political science at St. Louis Community College's Meramec campus.

What they are trying to do, Messmer said, is forge a relationship that could pay off later. By buying their meals, lobbyists are gaining access to legislators.

"We would be outraged if other professions did this," Messmer said. "But we turn a blind eye to it — most of us do — when it comes to our Legislature."

Lobbyists say they buy food for lawmakers for the same reason they take legislators to baseball games or contribute to their campaigns — for a subtle advantage that may help their client or cause.

States vary greatly in what their legislators can accept from lobbyists and others. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a chart here.