Food on our Mind…

Well, maybe it’s Thanksgiving week that makes us think of it, but already some of us who linger in the Statehouse are wondering who is going to win the most softly spoken of awards for members of the Legislature.

We’re thinking of the coveted “Golden Fork” award, which is theoretical and conceptual – no actual forks are handed out – and goes to the Kansas House or Senate member who receives the most food and drink bought for him/her by a lobbyist in a calendar year.

The 2019 competition ends, of course, on Dec. 31, and it takes lobbyists a couple weeks to tally up what they spent on each legislator in the past few months, which gets added to the earlier reports yielding a winner for the year. 

It will take the Governmental Ethics Commission which keeps track of that lobbyist spending on lawmakers until sometime in early February to tally up the dinners, drinks, rounds of golf and such that are part the final total.

Which shows, at least for those who track it, that it is possible to learn just how much lobbyists spent on lawmakers who are away from home and family and have time to spend with…well…lobbyists who while reviled by some actually are among the best sources of information for many legislators.

And it’s worth noting that while lobbyists have their clients’ interests in mind, we’ve never heard of a lobbyist refusing to answer a lawmaker’s question about “what is the down-side” or “who does this help and who does this hurt.”  Even when the lawmaker is eating a meal or drinking a drink that the lobbyist paid for.

Last year, lobbyists spent $3,723 on Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, winning him the Golden Fork and Best-Fed Boy award. No. 2 was Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita (now House Majority Leader), at $3,715. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, won the Best-Fed Girl award at $2,415 in lobbyist hospitality, and former Rep. Adam Lusker, D-Frontenac, was the best-fed Democrat in the Legislature with $1,600.

There are usually a couple dozen lawmakers who won’t take a drink or meal from lobbyists, touting their abstinence as a badge of honor or independence or such. 

And those who do take drinks and dinner from lobbyists? Well, it comes down to those who have good social skills, or who want to know more about the interests that lobbyists represent or want to hear the scuttlebutt from the Statehouse that they are too busy in committee hearings and debate and communicating with their constituents to hear for themselves, or maybe they were just hungry.

Not really a problem, and that lobbyist-to-lawmaker interaction probably makes them more effective, or at least they learn the second-bounce that nearly all changes in state law create.

Oh, and going out to dinner or lunch with a lobbyist who as a condition of their effectiveness – and possibly employment – are well-behaved might keep some of those non-Topekans from accidentally winding up stopping for a beer in a local bar where the legislator might be noticeable and talked-about for being the only one without a do-rag instead of a hat.

So, whether you are a fan of lobbyists, or fear that they are taking control of state government, those carefully listed expenditures on legislators probably give us an idea of just who is working a standard workday and who is out learning the culture of state government that many lawmakers who managed to win election but don’t understand the happenings inside the Statehouse and maybe some who just like to eat out on someone else’s dime. 

It’s different in here than in those lawmakers’ hometowns, or their apartments or hotel rooms while they are serving their constituents

Yep…we are waiting for those numbers… and this week’s turkey.

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