PHOENIX — State lawmakers took the first steps Thursday to block themselves from accepting free tickets from lobbyists to sporting events and concerts.
But some of the votes for SB 1060 by members of the Senate Committee on Government and Environment were tentative at best. And several legislators suggested they might change their minds when the measure reaches the full Senate.
The legislation would narrow the scope of existing laws that allow lawmakers to accept things like meals, travel and entertainment, subject only to reporting requirements. If approved, lobbyist-paid entertainment of all types would be off-limits.
Thursday’s 7-0 vote came amid questions and doubts expressed by some legislators about what would and would not be allowed. And Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said it was “offensive” to think lawmakers would decide how to vote on issues based on gifts from lobbyists and not evidence.
And while longtime lobbyist Barry Aarons testified in favor of the measure, he also took shots at the whole concept.
He questioned whether the proposal was addressing a real problem or simply lawmakers caving to “media-fueled public pressure” that singled out free sports tickets as a problem after a scandal involving the Fiesta Bowl. Aarons, who happens to sit on the Fiesta Bowl committee, said he doubts that free tickets, which would be outlawed, are any more of a “corruptive influence” on the lawmaking process than a $100 steak dinner paid for by a lobbyist, which would still be permitted.
Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, conceded the point. She said her preference would be to let legislators accept pretty much whatever they want, subject to having to disclose the gift online within days, so the public can see the interaction between their lawmakers and the lobbyists. But Reagan said even full and immediate disclosure is not the answer to everything.
“There is no benefit to the public for us going to a sporting event or a rock concert,” she said.
Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Here-ford, said she’s not so sure, noting she attended the 125th anniversary celebration of Eastern Arizona College last year.
“There was a ballgame afterwards,” she said. “Does this require me to pay the $8 admission for that game?”
The consensus seemed to be yes, with the belief the event was on the same scale as accepting free tickets from the University of Arizona to watch the Wildcats play because both EAC and the UA have lobbyists representing them at the Capitol.
Aarons was the only lobbyist to testify on the proposal, which now heads to the Senate floor for debate.
He said the Fiesta Bowl scandal “made sports tickets evil” in the minds of the public. That scandal involved not only hidden campaign contributions but also legislators accepting free tickets and then not reporting them as gifts.
But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he could not prosecute anyone for failure to disclose the freebies because the law appears to require that a legislator knowingly ignore the reporting mandate.
Aarons said it would be wrong for lawmakers to focus their attention only on them.