This blog features observations from Randy Turner, a former teacher, newspaper reporter and editor. Send news items or comments to email@example.com
Saturday, October 02, 2010
Taxpayers, lobbyists foot the bill for Speaker Richard, legislators to sample wine, vacation in the sun
" With his days as the self-proclaimed "most powerful man in the state of Missouri" now firmly esconced in the past, it is sad the depths to which Speaker of the House Ron Richard, R-Joplin, has fallen.
Far from having legislators at his beck and call, Richard now has others pay wine-tasting fees for him and his wife Patty.
At a time when hundreds of millions of dollars have been cut from the state budget, jobs hvae been lost, programs cut, and Missourians wonder if better times are ever going to arrive, Richard and several of his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate, spent at least three days in sunny San Diego, California, in August, attending the annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting.
Documents posted Thursday on the Missouri Ethics Commission website indicate Richard, as well as fellow representatives Darrell Pollock, R-Lebanon, John Diehl, R-Town and Country; Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peter's; Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis; Sue Allen, R-St. Louis; Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston; Cole McNary, R-Chesterfield; Jason Smith, R-Salem; Ed Emery, R-Lamar; and Timothy Jones, R-Eureka.
Senators attending included Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield; John Griesheimer, R-Washington; and Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville.
While the Missouri contingent was at the ALEC Conference it had the opportunity to listen to Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who during one of the panels related his role in a lawsuit against the federal health care program.
What is amazing is how little money lobbyists spent on the Missourians despite the lavish surroundings. Ethics Commission records indicate Charles Simino, representing the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association, paid for $9.62 lunches, $2.70 beverages, $8.77 dinners, and $11.33 wine tasting fees for Richard, Pollock, Funderburk, Griesheimer and their spouses, plus McNary and Ms. Ridgeway, as well as meals for the abovementioned, Kinder, and Gatschenberger.
Mary Scruggs, lobbyist for Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives bought $46 meals for Richard, Mrs. Richard, and Rep. Jason Smith. She also reported spending $173.17 Aug. 5 and $600 Aug. 6 for the "entire General Assembly" at San Diego, though only a small number of Republican legislators were at the conference.
Former Rep. Carl Bearden, representing United for Missouri, bought $51.08 meals Aug. 6 for Ms. Allen, Ms. Brandom, Mrs. Cunningham, Gatschenberger, Emery, Funderburk, Pollock, Griesheimer, Richard, Smith and the spouses of Richard, Pollock, Gatschenberger, and Funderburk.
Another former legislator, Michael Gibbons bought meals and paid for travel for the legislators, their spousnes, and even some of their children, according to the Ethics Commission records.
AT&T lobbyists Travis Brown and John Sondag took good care of Timothy Jones, with Brown paying for $115 worth of "entertainment" and Sondag footing the bill for a round of golf for Jones to the tune of $203, on Aug. 4, the day before the conference started.
Brown also paid $115.55 for entertainment for Diehl, and representing Pelopidas, bought a $71 meal for Ms. Ridgeway.
What is missing from the lobbyists' reports are any listings for lodging, or travel, indicating that Missouri taxpayers, like those in several other states bore the cost for the legislators' vacation in the sun.
A cached page from the ALEC website indicated that the cost of attending the session for legislators was $710, while the cost for spouses and children was $150 apiece.
ALEC convention guests were able to get the discounted rate of $219 a night for single rooms, $239 for double rooms, and $259 for triple and above at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, which boasts in its advertising of its "spectacular waterfront location" and "lavish amenities."
For those who are unaware of ALEC, it is a right-wing organization financed by major corporate and special interest groups, including Phillip Morris, Amway, the National Rifle Association, R. J. Reynolds, American Petroleum Institute, Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufactuers of Americas, and Coors.
ALEC not only has pushed pro-business legislation, but has written many of the laws passed in all 50 states, including the anti-federal health care initiative passed by Missouri voters in August. ALEC has been a leading proponent of removing all government restrictuions from businesses, privatizing government, and has been a leader in the pro-voucher movement in education.