They say there’s no such thing a free lunch. They don’t say that about brunches, because no one would care if a brunch was free. Cantaloupe and little rolls of ham just don’t cut it.
With pieces of meat between bread, and a dedicated side, lunches have more gravity, which is why free ones are hard to come by… hard to come by, unless you’re a state lawmaker.
According to Komo News, the Legislative Ethics Board recently voted to clearly define the current law which bars public officials from accepting free meals on anything more than “infrequent occasions.” Some wanted the number of free meals to be set at 15 per year; others pushed for only three, but the board decided to settle on 12, which is a very popular number in general. It’s all politics, really.
This means that lawmakers can only have lobbyists pay for their meals 12 times, but they can still continue to have lunch with lobbyists, as long as they pay for it themselves. It’s like the opposite system of those cards you get at sandwich places, where you have to buy 12 sandwiches to get the thirteenth free. Lawmakers get the first 12 free and have to pay for the thirteenth. I don’t know why I felt the need to explain that joke.
Not only did the board limit the number of free lunches, they also went all Seinfeldian on the lawmakers and voted to define a meal as any meal which involves sitting down, no matter the cost or value (what about food trucks?). So even if you only had a bowl of soup with a lobbyist from a soup company, that would technically be defined as a meal if you were sitting down. Who eats soup standing up, anyway? Not me! I’m not an animal.
The idealistic idea behind this law was to somehow limit the access of lobbyists to lawmakers and reduce the corrupting influence of money on politics, whatever that means. But as a few lawmakers have pointed out, this new law won’t really have any impact on that.
As a lawmaker, you can still have as many meals with lobbyists as you want. You can go to movies with them, ride on roller coasters, and even stand in ball pits. And there’s nothing in this law that prevents lobbyists from covering the tip. Tips can be pricey.
If you want to limit corruption, highly specific laws would be necessary. For instance, how about a law banning the act of sliding a piece of paper with a dollar figure on it across the table? Saying, “We were thinking something in the ballpark of this,” and then sliding a piece of paper with “$750,000″ written on it is why most people become politicians and lobbyists in the first place, because doing that is cool. The coolest thing to do is to slide a blank piece of paper across the table, and then shoot the guy with a silencer. Yes, I have seen too many movies.
What this law will mostly accomplish is to make things increasingly awkward between lobbyists and politicians. I can see a politician waiting for a lobbyist to pick up the check after a meal, and the lobbyist saying, “Actually, I think you’ve reached your limit of 12 free meals, so we’ll have to split the check.”
“Is that so?” the politician will say. “Well, you can forget about that logging contract you cheap son of a bitch!”
Did you know that state lawmakers already have a daily stipend (per diem) of $120 a day during the legislative session? That is unbelievable, because I have been pushing for a daily stipend here at The Capitol Times for years, and all they’ll give me is a dirty Ziploc bag full of Skittles and Pogs. What’s up with that?