In 2012, powerful interest groups lavished state lawmakers with high-dollar meals, trips and entertainment. But many of the same corporations and unions also showered legislative aides with meals, sporting tickets, concerts and rounds of golf, records show.
One reason? Term limits have made lawmakers themselves short-timers, while legislative staffers may transfer from lawmaker to lawmaker, committee to committee. They have power — and staying power.
Groups that spent the most on lobbying last year provided legislative aides with about $69,500 in gifts. A U-T Watchdog review showed that the same groups — from companies to associations and unions — bestowed roughly $70,500 in gifts to lawmakers.
A ticket to a basketball game or concert gives the purchasers the kind of face-to-face access to staffers that can be hard to steal amid the bustle of the workday. Schedulers can be particularly helpful in a company’s endeavors as they control virtually every minute of a legislator’s tightly-packed calendar.
“Because of term limits, the staffs have become the institutional knowledge of the Capitol — other than lobbyists themselves,” said Phillip Ung of California Common Cause. “It’s not just staff getting gifts, but it’s the relationship that’s being built, the long-term investment that is being made by these entities into these individuals.”
Ung and others argue that legislators should take a page from Congress, which has effectively banned gifts to staffers from lobbyists and their employers.