published Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Money for nothing?


That’s what businesses and professional and trade organizations spent on nearly 70 receptions for lawmakers during the recently adjourned session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

The good news is that spending is public record, so it cannot be kept out of the public eye.

The bad news is, that’s nearly half a million dollars spent with the hard-to-miss goal of influencing legislation.

No, the fact that a lawmaker attends a lavish reception put on by, say, AT&T is not proof of some kind of quid pro quo: An array of heavy hors d’oeuvres in exchange for the “right” vote on a telecommunications bill seems farfetched.

But such receptions — which sometimes run into the tens of thousands of dollars — certainly give the well-heeled a level of access to legislators that is not always available to ordinary Tennesseans or to organizations that may do excellent work but that operate on a shoestring budget.

They thus can help set the mental framework by which lawmakers approach legislation that could have some bearing on the group giving the reception.

And let’s face it: Businesses and other organizations are not in the habit of throwing money away on efforts that they believe are unlikely to do them any good. If they are spending thousands of dollars on a legislative reception, it is in the hope that they will, at a minimum, be in the good graces of lawmakers, if not win support outright for their legislative agendas.

That makes it vital that the news media — including the Times Free Press, which has been vigilant in its reporting on this type of spending — keep the public thoroughly informed on the kinds of things that could directly or indirectly influence legislators.

Businesses and organizations have a right to make their cases to lawmakers. But it should be done in the light of day so that residents of Tennessee can judge whether elected officials are acting in the public’s broad interest or in a way that promotes primarily the narrower interests of a given group.

Then voters can decide whether a lawmaker deserves to remain in office — or to rejoin the private sector.

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Lobbying gets a return of several fold. It's like the reverse lottery.

Watch out for Spooky-pacs.

May 19, 2012 at 12:47 a.m.
EaTn said...

Our politicians in general are the best that money can buy and the voters in general are gullible enough to believe the politicians are there supporting their best interests.

May 19, 2012 at 5:58 a.m.
Hilltopp said...

As much as I might like to see a boondoggle here, the math just doesn't add up.

$458,000 divided by 70 comes to about $6550 per reception. That's not really a lot for 100 to 150 people when you think about it. (No idea how many people attend these receptions, the author omits that information.)

Now, whether they should be allowed to do this is another question, but the figures so alarmingly offered by the writer really just aren't that scary when broken down.

May 19, 2012 at 8:29 a.m.
hambone said...

Even at $6550 per reception. John Q Public can't meat that price. When you consider the amount of access it buys it's peanuts!

May 19, 2012 at 9:56 a.m.
Hilltopp said...

I disagree, there are a number of John Q. Publics who could cough up $6550 if they desired to do that. Remember that is an average, so some may only be a couple of thousand, while others, as the author claims, run into the tens of thousands.

Don't get me wrong. Money in politics is a virus, but the figures the author is ringing the bell over, just aren't that alarming. I would say the author more enjoys stirring something up than making a valid point.

May 19, 2012 at 6:54 p.m.
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