Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wining and Dining the Committees

When you get outside of the insular world of the state Legislature, you'll find that one of the major things that makes average citizens cynical about the Roundhouse circus is the idea of lobbyists wining and dining lawmakers at fancy restaurants -- and everyone insisting that nobody expects anything in return.

In today's New Mexican I looked at the practice of the "committee dinners" in which lobbyists treat entire committees -- which routinely vote on bills that affect the interest of the lobbyists' clients --  to private dinners that cost thousands of dollars. I spoke with Rep. Brian Egolf, chairman of the Energy Committee and to lobbyist Mark Duran, who helped pay for a recent dinner at Restaurant Martín  for the Energy Committee.

As I point out in the story, there's nothing illegal about such dinners or anything that would violate any rule of the Legislature. There's no evidence that any vote has ever been bought in exchange for a Grilled Kurobuta Pork Chop or Maple Leaf Farm Duck Breast.

And I believe Egolf and Duran that nothing was asked for and nothing was promised at the Energy Committee dinner. Both say that no issues were discussed at the affair and I bet that's the truth. Egolf mentioned the "rocky start" his committee had in the session, referring to the hearing in which all the Republican members walked out and said the dinner was a good way for the committee members from both parties to get to know each other.

Still, legislators shouldn't be surprised when their constituents, many of whom are unfamiliar with the pleasures of Spice Crusted Ahi Tuna or even Nantucket Bay Scallop Risotto look at such lobbyist-paid shindigs with suspicion.