Friday, February 8, 2013

Butterring up elected officials: Getting around the $500 gift limit

Upon reading this article from The Texas Tribune, one might wonder if these type of shenanigans happen in our beloved Gateway City. No, not in Laredo?  In particular, the article outlines how lobbyists manage to work around the $500 gift limit and still shower  politicos with all sorts of goodies in an effort to influence their votes.

With gifts such as these always flowing in, those who wish to influence how an elected official will vote on their project$ don't have to ask, the gifts have already done the talking. This way politicos can attest that "at no time did he/she/the ask me for my vote on their contract". Oh no? What do you think he/she/they were saying with those gifts? You think it's just they happen to like you?


From The Texas Tribune

They butter up legislative buddies with sports tickets, golf gear and hunting trips. They treat committee staffers and friendly chiefs of staff to spa treatments, cigars and bottles of liquor. They hit up the wedding and baby shower registries of lawmakers and their relatives.
And they never, ever pass up an occasion to deliver flowers.

“There’s a basic psychological principle, that if you associate somebody with pleasure, whether it be a gift or a fancy trip, that you will go out of your way to try and please them, to return the favor,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, Texas director for Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group.

Under the state’s ethics code, lobbyists are allowed to give gifts to lawmakers, state employees or their immediate family, as long as the value does not exceed $500 per calendar year. A provision added in 2007 permits a lobbyist to give a gift worth more than $500 if he or she shares the cost with another registered lobbyist, a relatively common practice.

That meant that in 2009, Robert Saunders, a lobbyist for Texas Disposal Systems, could team up with some of his colleagues in the lobby to buy four members of the Texas House .22 caliber semiautomatic rifles from a company that boasts on its website: “Don’t leave civilization without one.”

That same year, Saunders also purchased Nikon binoculars for all members of the Texas Senate ahead of a safari-themed party thrown at the company’s exotic game ranch and entertainment pavilion near Creedmoor.

“Again, we collected funds from a number of lobbyists, and we had an amount in addition to what we needed to pay for food and entertainment, so I said, ‘Let’s give them gifts,” he said.

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