Lawmaker wants end to free tickets for legislators - East Valley Tribune: Capitol Media Services

Lawmaker wants end to free tickets for legislators

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Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 8:40 pm

The next time state lawmakers want to see the Wildcats take on the Sun Devils, they may have to buy their own tickets. Ditto the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Cardinals and the upcoming Super Bowl.

Sen. Michele Reagan is proposing to make it illegal for lobbyists and other special interests to provide free tickets to sports events for lawmakers.

It's not just sports: SB 1060 would criminalize tickets for any form of entertainment, so free tickets to everything from rock concerts and Disney on Ice would also be off limits.

Reagan's plan was derided by Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. Shooter said there's nothing wrong with lawmakers getting off campus to discuss issues, even with — and at the expense of — lobbyists. He said legislators should be able to accept such perks as long as they are disclosed to the public.

Reagan countered she tried last year to force better disclosure, only to have the measure buried by her colleagues.

So she figures the best and cleanest way to do it is simply outlaw the free tickets outright, and Reagan thinks that, this time, she can convince other lawmakers to go along.

“The public has said, loud and clear, they have an issue with legislators getting free tickets, things they have to pay for to go,” Reagan said.

Arizona law generally precludes lawmakers from taking gifts from special interests, but there are many exceptions, including food, travel, speaking fees — and entertainment.

There's an even bigger exception: Lawmakers can go to sporting events, on a lobbyist's dime, if every member of a clearly identified group is also invited. That could be as broad as the full Legislature or as narrow as just the members of the House Commerce Committee.

“I'm not saying anybody can't go,” said Reagan, who is running for Secretary of State. That position is the state's chief election officer who also is responsible for reporting of gifts by lobbyists to public officials.

“I'm just saying pay for it,” she said.

The move comes several years after a scandal involving organizers of the Fiesta Bowl who were accused of trying to improperly influence lawmakers.

Some of that resulted in charges against Fiesta Bowl officials for disguising campaign contributions.

But a separate inquiry into lawmakers who accepted free tickets — and in some cases failed to report the freebies — went nowhere. That's because Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery concluded the law was so poorly worded that the only way to prosecute anyone is to prove they knowingly broke the law.

Reagan said rather than wrestle with the question of what needs to be disclosed and when, the cleaner way to deal with it would be to make all entertainment gifts off limits.

Shooter said Reagan is making far too much of the issue.

“My feeling is nobody's going to change their vote for a $20 baseball ticket,” he said. “I mean, it's just foolishness.”

Shooter also said that sporting events are an opportunity for lawmakers to get away from the Capitol “and the angst and the chaos that sometimes reins here, and in a social situation get together and do some work.”

“And by that, I mean we can just go out and be human,” he clarified.

Shooter said he is not under any illusion that lobbyists, by definition, want to influence lawmakers. But he said that is no reason for new limits.

“I think lobbyists are an easy target,” he said. “And I think there are good lobbyists and bad lobbyists, just like there are good legislators and bad legislators.”

Shooter said a better alternative is oversight and reporting.

“As long as everybody knows what's going on, then it's legit,” he said. “If the tobacco industry gives you $10 million, hey, that tells you something.”

Reagan said her legislation would not preclude all gifts from lobbyists. They could still wine and dine lawmakers and even pay for their out-of-town trips. But she said allowing lobbyists to pay for sporting events and other entertainment is “the most egregious'' of the exceptions and “the one I think really, really needs to be cleaned up.”

Even if Reagan manages to get her proposal through the Legislature it could face an uncertain future on the desk of Gov. Jan Brewer.

In 2011, in the wake of the Fiesta Bowl scandal, Brewer told Capitol Media Services she was in favor of revamping the state's financial disclosure laws — but only if they did not keep public officials from taking gifts and free trips.

Brewer said better law would guarantee “full disclosure” of what lawmakers and others are taking, and from whom. But the governor said it would be wrong to make it illegal to take things.

“You might not believe this, but there are people in the community that like to give elected officials flowers or tokens of appreciation,” she said. Brewer said a ban would require these items to be returned.

Calls to the governor's press aide seeking clarification of her views on free entertainment were not immediately returned.

An outright ban on gifts proposed in 2012 by Sens. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, and David Schapira, D-Tempe, went nowhere, as did Reagan's 2013 enhanced disclosure plan. Lawmakers were wrestling with the question of whether gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers are improper even before the Fiesta Bowl scandal.

In 1996, for example, legislators did vote to put some limits on gifts, barring the practice of lobbyists giving lawmakers everything from free football tickets to fancy dinners. Exceptions were made for smaller items and meals.

That was vetoed by then-Gov. Fife Symington who called the proposal an unnecessary “nanny law.” He argued there were already sufficient laws to deter public corruption, saying calls for additional statutes come from “the media outlets and the morality police who trade in cynicism.”

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