Arizona Republic: Call 'Em Back! Legislature Forgot to Ban Gifts (Again)

By Laurie Roberts, Arizona Republic

Arizona's legislators have wrapped up their work and returned home to explain to voters the many reasons why they should be re-elected. Really.

One item you won't see on that list: the new ban on the freebies that flow freely forth at the state Capitol.

That's because there isn't one.

It is now year three post-Fiesta Bowl Fiasco.

Three years later, our leaders are laughing still. Why just last month, a bunch of them were yukking it up as they feasted on pricey steaks and free drinks at a Phoenix restaurant. Among those in attendance: Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who killed this year's bill to ban at least a few gifts. Sen. Michele Reagan, a Scottsdale Republican now running for secretary of state, proposed a ban on free tickets to entertainment events.

"It seems like an easy fix," she told me in January. "We should not be taking sports tickets."

Her bill breezed through the Government and Environment Committee in January, while the TV cameras were rolling. Then it was never heard from again. Biggs held it in his Rules Committee. It died without so much as a single no vote. This, as our leaders gobbled up free food and booze – goodies they'll never have to disclose given our lax laws. Last month, KPHO aired a hidden-camera report, showing a parade of Republican legislators heading into Donovan's Steakhouse for some wining and very fine dining, courtesy of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. That's the outfit that supplies "scholarships" so our leaders can travel to conventions where they hobnob with corporate lobbyists and bring home "model legislation" on everything from privatizing education and prisons to undermining unions.

The most startling part of the KPHO report – apart from the price of a steak and a shot of Senate Appropriations Chairman Don Shooter, R-Yuma, carrying around what looked like a bottle of bourbon -- was that this open-bar soiree was a membership drive for ALEC. Me? I thought ALEC already owned our Legislature.

To his credit, at least Shooter's been honest about his opposition to Reagan's bill limiting freebies. "Give us a raise, we'll buy our own tickets," he told a reporter earlier this year. No doubt, Democrats are wined and dined as well. If we had real disclosure, I could tell you who and when. But alas, transparency at the Capitol is a lot like campaign promises. Often talked about. Seldom acted upon.

In addition to Shooter and Biggs, other legislators spotted at the steak soiree were:

Debbie Lesko and David Livingston of Peoria, Carl Seel and Nancy Barto of Phoenix, Eddie Farnsworth of Gilbert, J.D. Mesnard and Jeff Dial of Chandler, Justin Olson of Mesa, Michelle Ugenti of Scottsdale, John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, Brenda Barton of Payson, Bob Thorpe and Chester Crandell of Flagstaff, T.J. Shope of Coolidge, and Adam Kwasman of Oro Valley. Do you suppose they were invited because of their sparkling personalities?

The original article can be viewed here.