Belly Up to the Trough
Legislative reception expenses top $400K during 2009 session By Clint Brewer Business interests and even departments of state government spent big dollars wining and dining members of the Tennessee General Assembly during the 2009 legislative session. Despite a recession and record unemployment, more than $437,000 was spent on receptions, parties, buffet lunches, tailgates and other events where the members of the Tennessee General Assembly were the invited guests, according to a Tennessee Center for Policy Research survey of disclosures on file with the state Ethics Commission. Some 59 events were held between January 9 and May 19 where legislators were invited to attend and enjoy the largesse of special interests, quasi-governmental groups funded with tax dollars and some of the state’s largest businesses with bills before the General Assembly. On average, each event cost about $7,412, according to the TCPR survey of public records. Though it may be several steps removed, taxpayer dollars or utility rate payer’s funds appear to have gone toward these receptions in some instances. Entities tied directly or indirectly to government or public utility funding like the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, the Tennessee School Board Association, the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts, the Tennessee Public Transportation Association, Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association played a part in hosting events for legislators. Under the Ethics Reform Act of 2006, lobbyists and employers of lobbyists must disclose how much they spend on “entertainment, food and refreshments” for events involving members of the General Assembly. Under the law, all members of the legislature must be invited to each event, and the cost per person may not exceed $51 per day. The 10 most expensive legislative events during the 2009 session were: 1. $23,041 for the “Arrival of AT&T U-verse TV in Nashville and Middle Tennessee” hosted by AT&T Tennessee. 2. $21,745 for the “TMEPA Legislative Reception” hosted by the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association. 3. $21,509 for the “Volunteer Legislative Luncheon and THA Legislative Reception” hosted by the Tennessee Hospital Association. 4. $16,308 (Tie) “Annual Legislative Reception” hosted by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce Executives, Tennessee Economic Development Council and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development; $16,308 “Welcoming Reception for the 5th Annual Summit on the Burden of Cancer in Tennessee” hosted by the Tennessee Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition. 5. $16,205 for the “97th Annual Meeting Reception” hosted by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 6. $16,034 for a “Legislative Reception” hosted by the Insurers of Tennessee, State Farm Insurance Companies, Property & Casualty Insurance Association of American, Farmers Insurance Exchange, Allstate Insurance Companies, Nationwide Insurance Companies, Farm Bureau Insurance. 7. $14,698 for the “Day on the Hill” hosted by the Tennessee School Board Association. 8. $12,462 for a “Lunch Buffett for the Members of the General Assembly” hosted by the Tennessee Gas Association. 9. $11,683 for the “Governor’s Luncheon” hosted by AT&T and Aqua-Chem, Inc. 10. $10,111 for the “Annual Conservation and Achievement Awards & Legislative Reception” hosted by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. The total cost for all legislative events may increase as more reports roll in. Two events in June sponsored by the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce have not yet been reported. For more information, visit the Tennessee Ethics Commission web site at: http://www.tennessee.gov/sos/tec/ In the coming weeks, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research plans to release a more comprehensive report on taxpayer-funded lobbying by local governmental entities in the state.