Do Gifts from Lobbyists to Lawmakers Present a Problem?

Lobbyists, by definition, work to sway, influence, and/or inform lawmakers. As a result, gifts by lobbyists are often viewed as suspect. There seems to be nothing particularly odd about this. If your job is to influence a certain group of individuals, then part of the cost of doing business is often to get those individuals a present now and again. It is also not odd that those on the receiving end would feel thankful, and possibly indebted.

While not odd, this arrangement breeds numerous problems. Legislators, unlike private individuals, are public servants, and, by definition, should make decisions in the best interests of all of their constituents, as opposed to those who can give them gifts.

At the very least, legislators will be more attuned to the needs and desires of those represented by lobbyists. Again, there is nothing particularly earth shattering about this. All of us are more heavily influenced by those around us than by those with whom we rarely have contact. But what happens when that influence comes in the form of gifts?

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Many legislators thought this presented a problem, so much that they voted to prohibit certain gifts from groups that employ lobbyists. Former State Senator Sam Blakeslee (R- San Luis Obispo) authored a bill which would have prohibited many of the smaller gifts and perks that lawmakers receive from lobbyists. The proposal overwhelmingly passed in his house, but failed in the Assembly. Now the lawmakers who voted in favor of the ban are enjoying the current system, under which they can accept some gifts from lobbyists.

Examples of gifts have included tickets to horseraces, theme parks, and sporting events. Many of these perks would likely have been prohibited under the proposal because they were seen as having little legitimate purpose.

There is nothing inherently evil or surprising about lobbyists who try to do their job by influencing lawmakers. But there is a problem when lawmakers permit a system under which they can and do receive perks which seem to lack any legitimate purpose. A solution may not be easily attained, but an administrable and practicable one is worth considering.

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