Monday, June 26, 2006

Lobbyists, legislators partying down there in Phoenix.

It appears that the problems with lobbyists don't just happen in Washington, they are going on down in Phoenix just as much. Yesterday, a report came out that indicates that what lobbyists in Phoenix have spent to feed, lodge, entertain and send our legislators places more than doubled in just the past two years, with some legislators getting paid thousands in free food, travel, tickets and other niceties. Considering that we have a part-time legislature that earns $24,000 per year, this adds up to a significant tax-free, off the books 'bonus' for our legislators. You can check on who has been wining and dining your legislator at this link (you may have to scroll all the way to the right to get the links to individual legislators.)

Let's make one thing clear: Lobbyists may be looking for a way around the rules now that Arizona's clean election laws have stymied their ability to outright buy candidates by means of big money donations, but any attempt to use this by Republicans as a reason to get rid of clean elections is like trying to cure a cold with a cold shower followed by standing in an open window. In fact, this could be looked at as proof that the clean elections laws work, and only need to be supplemented by a few more rules on what legislators can accept from lobbyists (I also believe that a full time legislature, paid a full time salary, would be a move in the right direction also, as then legislators wouldn't be tempted to let a lobbyist pick up the tab for lunch.)

What is really disturbing is to read through who has been doing this. For example, quite a few legislators have been given all sorts of free meals and beverages by representatives of pharmaceutical companies like Glaxo-Smith Kline.

Others have been wined and dined by a group calling itself by the appealing sounding name, 'Citizens' Commission on Human Rights.' A check of the group's web site reveals something less appealing. They are affiliated with the Church of Scientology. If you don't know who the Church of Scientology is, they are the group that Tom Cruise belongs to, that was founded by former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and believes in 'dianetics,' a medicine-free path to good health, and in particular to good mental health (and at a higher level to a release of untapped mental energy). That is the fundamental cornerstone of their belief system, so by necessity they also believe in all sorts of conspiracy plots, mostly involving psychiatrists and the mental health system. By forming CCHR, they have moved beyond the fringe and have tried to get their views accepted by people who make laws, not just in Arizona but around the country. In fact, this is a strange case of where big business and a loony religious cult have come together to shaft the little guy (as represented by a person who has a mental illness and needs affordable treatment that works). For a long time, health insurance companies have not reimbursed mental health providers or reimbursed them at much lower rates than other health care providers. Once their justification for doing so, that mental conditions were in general not diseases but purely were voluntary conditions or conditions which were produced by voluntary actions (such as drug or alcohol abuse), was proven false by biochemical researchers, they had to change their reasoning. In fact, the brain is just like any other organ in the body, subject to disease (as evidenced by chemical imbalance, even in otherwise healthy people) and psychiatrists (my father was one before he died fifteen years ago) are simply trained medical doctors who went to the same medical schools as other doctors, and specialized in the treatment of diseases of this organ. Because scientologists believe as an absolute truth and matter of religious conviction that mental illness is something that can be treated by their own (non-medical) methods, much like the old view of it, the insurance industry, while still taking mental illness less seriously (in terms of payment) than they do other kinds of illnesses, have been able to step back and let the religious cult do their dirty work for them. In fact, I have to wonder why CCHR has been so well funded. I know that Tom Cruise gets a pretty good paycheck and undoubtedly donates quite a bit of it, but the rate that this organization (CCHR) has grown is very suggestive that they may be getting some serious behind the scenes money, and if so.... well I can suggest a conspiracy theory just as well as they can.

Since I haven't had a chance to review all of the legislators, I will only point out a couple here that jump out at me. The first one is of Senator Barbara Leff, who seems to have accepted 'gifts' of food and beverages, travel, lodging, entertainment and flowers (wonder if they ever give those to male legislators) from a wide variety of lobbyists, though lobbyists associated with the legal and medical industries tend to predominate. Remember, it was Senator Leff who successfully scuttled an effort to reduce the methamphetamine problem in our state (and if you live in a rural area like I do, you know how big a problem it is-- if you don't, then I discussed it in the post I did on my Grand Jury experience). The bill Senator Leff stopped, similar to one that cut the number of meth labs by 70% in Oklahoma, would have required that stores which sold cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine, a major component of meth, have them in a locked cabinet near the pharmacy (similar to the way they keep stop smoking patches and pregnancy testing kits.) Apparently, Senator Leff thought that unlocking this cabinet (and asking people who bought more than three boxes at a time to sign for them) would be too odious for the pharmacists-- so we continue to keep products like Nicoderm patches that save lives under lock and key while meth cooks can still walk into a supermarket and clean out the shelves with no questions asked. And look at the numbers: It is a pretty good payback, for a couple of meals and other favors purchased for Barbara Leff by lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry. Fortunately, a lot of cities have been so outraged by this that they have passed these measures themselves, meaning the investment that the pharmaceutical industry lobbyists made in Senator Leff may not have been so productive as they first thought it would be.

The other one that stands out is my own Senator, Jake Flake (R-Snowflake) (whose list of lobbyist favors is about twice as long as the list for my two representatives, Bill Konopnicki (R-Safford) and Jack Brown (D-St. Johns), combined !-- he sure is living it up on the lobbyists' tab.) One thing that surprised me here is that (like many others) he let lobbyists from Philip Morris buy him food or beverage, not just once but several times. I have very good reason to believe that Rep. Flake is a non-smoker, and in fact that he belongs to the same church that I do, that preaches rather vigorously against smoking. So what is he doing accepting dinner from tobacco lobbyists? He has the right to, of course-- but since they aren't trying to sell him cigarettes, it seems they are trying to sell him something else. And since they keep coming back to him, it seems they believe it is a good investment of their money. 'nuff said.

1 comment:

Lily said...

I love these groups with these "well intentioned" type of names. They sound so legitimate!