Politics & Issues
11:22 pm
Thu August 7, 2014

BBQ, Branson And Booze: Noteworthy Gifts Missouri Lawmakers Took From Lobbyists This Year

Through the first six months of the year, Missouri lawmakers accepted $675,000 in gifts from lobbyists.

On Monday, we'll be taking a look at some of the noticeable trends -- how this year stacks up with years past, which parties and lawmakers have been taking the gifts, etc. But today we're going to take a look at four noteworthy gifts from the first half of the year.

  • Pork Barrel Spending

Lawmakers like their BBQ. A lot. So much so, that they've accepted $66,848 worth of BBQ since 2007. And as our chart shows, the flow of that delicious meat has only increased this year.

A good chunk of the BBQ (and is there ever really a bad chunk of BBQ?) is for an end of the year shindig put together by state Sen. Kiki Curls, but paid for by dozens of different lobbyists. Almost all -- 91 percent -- of the $67,000 spent on BBQ was disclosed as going to legislative groups, which hides which lawmakers ate all of that BBQ.

Credit (via Flickr/Kami)

By the way, how much BBQ is this really? Let's do the math. Lutz BBQ in Jefferson City was a popular choice and listed on a lot of the descriptions. They charge $10.32 a lb of pulled pork, so:

$66,848.04/$10.32 per lb = 6,478 lbs of pulled pork total

Of course, this only works as a very rough estimate, as it assumes that the lobbyists exclusively bought pulled pork (which they probably didn't) and that they didn't get a discount for buying so much BBQ (which they probably did).

  • A Surge From Tesla

Late in this year's session, a provision in a Senate bill would have made it impossible for Tesla Motors, a new electric car company, to sell its cars directly to customers in Missouri. In response, Tesla hired 11 lobbyists to kill the measure, and they were ultimately successful.

Tesla wasn't active in lobbying until this session, but the company spent $2,335.12 on a "informative reception" with food and drinks for lawmakers. The company also brought its electric cars to the Capitol for legislators to drive.

Of course, that's only half the story. The other half is that the provision was being pushed hard by the Missouri Automobile Dealers Association, which didn't want Tesla to circumvent the dealers and sell straight to the consumer. The dealers association is an influential group and has spent more than $140,000 on gifts for lawmakers over the last decade.

The organization currently employs 16 lobbyists and spent $11,213 on gifts this year alone -- including $4,000 for Mizzou basketball tickets for members of the transportation committee. 

  • Through The Grapevine

​Smithfield Foods spent $1,801.20 on wine and liquor that was disclosed as going to the "entire Misouri Senate." When it comes to alcoholic drinks, it's really hard to track how much lobbyists buy. When legislators are taken out for expensive dinners (which happens a lot), the total sum is just added together -- there's no itemizing how much was spent on food or how much went for that bottle of wine.

And the disclosure will often list "beverage" or "drink"  and most of them won't clarify whether or not it was alcoholic. There were 241 gifts like that this year, worth a total of $26,712.43.

  • It's All Smiles In Branson

State Reps. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar, and Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carrollton, took trips to Branson in May and June of this year respectively, with tickets to shows paid for by lobbyists representing the Branson Chamber of Commerce. Kelley took four tickets to the Legends in Concert show, which boasts "the greatest collection of live tribute artists and celebrity look-alikes in the industry."

McGaugh took three tickets to Butterfly Palace and four tickets to Presley's Jubilee.

All told, the tickets were valued at $263.04.

Chambers of Commerce are big lobbyists in Jefferson City. Altogether, they've given more than $650,000 in gifts over the last decade, including $33,000 so far this year.

Note: Keep in mind that all of these gifts are just for the first six months of this year (there's a short lag in new lobbying disclosures coming down). All our data comes from LobbyingMissouri.org, a project we started with NPR's Apps team.

On Monday, we'll look at how this year compares to prior years.

Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter@csmcdaniel