A slew of lobbyists are being asked to sponsor a big end-of-session party for four influential Texas House committees that control legislation in which they have an interest.
The lobbyists are being solicited for $500 each to pay for dinner, music and entertainment for a combined gala honoring the work of four committees, including one that deals with government reform.
Promising an appearance by “Whiplash, the Amazing Rodeo Monkey ,” the invitation asks committee members, staff and invited guests to “Come ‘monkey’ around” Wednesday night.
The party at a former landfill reconstituted as an exotic-game preserve will also feature a chuckwagon dinner, skeet shooting, Western swing bands and free drinks — all courtesy of lobbyists who represent various industries and interests looking to gain advantage from lawmakers’ work before the legislative session wraps up at the end of the month.
An email sent to dozens of lobbyists contains the invitation and an instruction: “The sponsorship fee will be $500 per lobbyist. If you are interested, please reply to this email.”
The practice is common, and perfectly legal, as lobbyists are allowed to fund meals and other gifts for lawmakers as long as anything over $50 is disclosed. But one longtime lobbyist found this particular solicitation so direct that it was distasteful.
“It’s like a chain letter. Pass it on or bad luck will befall you,” said the lobbyist, who received the email and spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “I was outraged by it. This is preposterous.”
A Republican political consultant, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said such parties are common for House and Senate committees.
“I guarantee that lobbyists pay for every single one,” he said. “It’s not something unusual.”
Craig McDonald, director of the government ethics group Texans for Public Justice, said the solicitation “looks like a shakedown of lobbyists.”
“The very people who need favors are the ones being asked to pay for their parties and booze,” he said. “This practice needs to stop.”
House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee Chairman Sid Miller said about four lobbyists, whom he did not name, offered to sponsor his committee’s dinner.
“They said they would put it together and get some other sponsors,” said Miller, R-Stephenville.
“My idea was that it wouldn’t cost very much. About $200 to $300, which I think would be responsible,” he said, especially since “we’ll have to feed about 120” people.
Miller said “it’s a fair assumption” that some of the lobbyists would have an interest in bills heard by the committees involved.
But most proposals before his panel — such as driver’s license rules, DNA databases and firearms laws — will have been voted on by the time of the party, he said.
Rep. Wayne Smith, chairman of the Environmental Regulation Committee, said that the big parties are a tradition and that he was unaware of the solicitation or any of the arrangements made for the dinner.
“I’m just going along with a tradition,” said Smith, R-Baytown. “I don’t know how they did it.”
Almost every large lobbying firm asked to kick in for the party has clients in oil, gas or chemical companies that are affected by Smith’s committee.
Asked about the amount to sponsor the party, Smith said: “Yeah, it’s probably a little bit high.”
Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, chairman of the Government Efficiency and Reform Committee, also cited the dinner tradition and said it’s “standard practice” to ask lobbyists to pay for the parties.
“I just assume if the lobbyists wanted to participate, they would, and if they didn’t care to, they wouldn’t,” he said.
Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, chairman of the Defense and Veteran Affairs Committee, said he’s “not a big fan” of asking lobbyists to get involved.
He said he usually pays for committee meals out of his own campaign funds. And while he was not aware of the solicitation of lobbyist money for the joint party, he said he didn’t have a problem with the $500, depending on how many were asked.
“If it were only five, six or seven lobbyists, I’m OK with that,” Pickett said. “If it’s 300 to 400, I’ve got a problem.”
None of the chairmen said he knew how many lobbyists received the email solicitation.