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Daniel Ruth

Buy one legislator, get one free

State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Today, was beside herself with indignation. But then again, this is Tallahassee, where indignation is quickly becoming the official state emotion.

The Tampa lawmaker had just voted in favor of easing a ban that prevents legislators from officially accepting so much as a free cup of coffee from sweet-talking, deep-pocketed lobbyists bedecked with more credit cards than a two-bit gin joint chippie flashing for Gasparilla beads.

"I actually resent the suggestion that I could be bought for a cup of coffee, or a bottle of water," huffed Joyner, D-Seconds Anyone? What would it take then? A fine bottle of pinot noir, with just a hint of sauciness?

Perhaps Joyner is above selling her vote for a double latte, but that doesn't mean many of her colleagues can't be leased for as little as a Happy Meal. After all this Tallahassee, a land where scruples go to die a long, well-fed death.

That didn't prevent the Senate Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections, which is a bit like Mafia having a rules subcommittee on teetotaling, virginity and conflict resolution, from voting to rescind a measure prohibiting lawmakers from accepting beverages, food and or gifts.

If passed into law, the new Buy One Legislator, Get One Free regulations would permit lawmakers to accept up to $25 in chow, gee-gaws in appreciation for dedicated service to the state's special interests, or liquid nourishment. Items between $25 and $100 would have to be reported, and anything above $100 would first have to be approved by House Speaker Dean Cannon or Senate President Mike Haridopolos when they can find the time away from stuffing their own pockets and bellies to deal with the requests.

After all, this is Tallahassee, which is an old Indian word for "Where's mine?"

"I think the timing is kind of bad," uttered the Senate's Socratic sage Sen. Steve Oelrich, D-Camus, who observed it looked sorta sleazy to be imposing all manner of austerity measures on the body politic, while at the same time making it easier for elected officials to chow down on the lobbyist-funded buffet line. Gee, do you think?

When a recent grand jury excoriated the Florida Legislature as a breeding ground for a "culture of corruption," does anyone, with the glaring exception of the tone deaf Florida Legislature, think it is a particularly bright idea to ease up on the ways lawmakers can be compromised more than the Mayflower Madam?

Of course this is the same panhandler of pols who earlier this session voted to make it perfectly legal for themselves to accept bribes through the creation of phony "leadership funds" that permit unlimited "contributions."

The beauty of this is that now senators and representatives can accept their baksheesh checks over a civilized lobbyist expense account-funded dry martini.

And that's just peachy for Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Check? What Check?, who whined that under the old rules she is prevented from putting on the feedbag with friends who might be associated with lobbying. Well, isn't that the whole point of more restrictive rules on palling around with influence-peddlers?

This may come as something of a shock to Detert, R-Why Yes, I'll Have Another, but the public has about as much confidence that the Florida Legislature is looking out for its interests as it does in the likelihood Michele Bachmann will be the next president of Planned Parenthood.

I don't know about you, but I don't want Nancy Detert, or any other of the Florida Legislature's elected special interest supernumeraries, breaking bread, sharing an ice cream cone, or throwing back a few beers with lobbyists who are picking up the tab.

Joyner disingenuously insists that — tut-tut — her integrity can't possibly be undermined by a mere Starbucks Espresso Con Panna. Sure it can.

For this isn't about the cost of a cup of Joe. It's about the access the lobbyist gets every time he or she grabs the check. A state senator or House member can be rung up more cheaply than Joyner would care to admit.

In the end, given all the other ways the Florida Legislature has proven it can be paid off, simply acknowledging the obvious by lifting the gift ban is fitting in a twisted sort of way.

After all, this is Tallahassee, the Mustang Ranch of politics.

Buy one legislator, get one free 04/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011 8:46pm]

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