By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — In Kansas, the path to a state lawmaker’s ear goes directly through the stomach.
Influencing events in Topeka is a big business. It draws hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, and at least a fraction of it literally fuels the policy-making process by way of food and beverages purchased by lobbyists for elected officials.
For Eric Stafford, vice president of government affairs for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and a 10-year veteran of the statehouse, it’s also the most reliable way to bend a legislator’s ear.
Data provided online by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission breaks down lobbyist spending on individual lawmakers, making it abundantly clear dinner and drinks are by far the most common monetary perk elected officials receive from lobbyists at the Capitol.
Stafford noted the reason for that is simple. It’s all about scheduling.
“You just have limited time to reach committee members and individual lawmakers in between committee assignments,” Stafford said.
Now, we here at Kansas Watchdog like to recognize our state officials for their impressive accomplishments. With that in mind, and the data so readily available, we’d like to launch our first-ever gastrointestinal achievement recognition for state lawmakers by awarding the Golden Fork!
First Place: State Sen. Julia Lynn
To say the number popped out at us would be an understatement. Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, racked up an impressive $508.21 in food and drink paid for by lobbyists during the 2014 legislative session.
Lynn, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, said she had no idea she had managed to amass four times more than the $123 dinner-bill average across the entire Legislature.
“I’m assistant majority leader. One of the things I do is make sure people get fed, and I put together a lot of dinners,” Lynn told Kansas Watchdog. “Some of them I attend, and some of them I don’t. I see it as a very valuable time, getting to know everybody. It’s a good team-building time.”
Honestly, Lynn’s total wouldn’t have been that high save for one expensive tab. Sometime in January the Kansas Bankers Association dropped $120 on Lynn’s food. What exactly was it?
“Oh good grief, I have no idea,” Lynn said.
She laughed-off the matter when contacted by Kansas Watchdog.
What would an awards series be without the runners-up? While it’s not quite as attention grabbing as Lynn’s tally, State Sen. Mike O’Donnell, R-Wichita, wasn’t terribly far behind in second after racking up $450.99 in free food and drinks on the lobbyist dime this session. O’Donnell chairs the Senate Regulatory Boards and Commissions Committee.
Finally, rounding out a distant third place is state Sen. Kay Wolf, R-Prairie Village, at $358.44. Wolf chairs the Joint Committee on State Building Construction.
- Sen. Julia Lynn — $508.21
- Sen. Mike O’Donnell — $450.99
- Sen. Kay Wolf — $358.44
- Sen. Terry Bruce — $340.22
- Senate President Susan Wagle — $331.66
- Sen. Jim Denning — $325.72
- Rep. Susan Concannon — $324.75
- Sen. Elaine Bowers — $323.66
- Rep. Stephanie Clayton — $318.95
- Sen. Jeff Longbine — $309.99
View the full legislative breakdown here.
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