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Posted on Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 11:22 a.m.

Michigan lawmakers dine on $525,000 in free lunches from lobbyists

By Cindy Heflin

A free lunch is a pretty common thing for lawmakers in Lansing, the Detroit Free Press reports.

An analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network found lobbyists spent more than $525,000 in the first six months of this year on meals for state elected officials, the newspaper reported.



Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, who represents part of Washtenaw County, was the top recipient of meals paid for by lobbyists in the first six months of 2011, with a total tab of $2,985, the Free Press reported.

Richardville said the lunches help him build relationships and learn about issues, an important part of his job.



Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 6:22 p.m.

"Richardville said the lunches help him build relationships and learn about issues, an important part of his job." Give me a break! If it was that important for him, he would be willing to pick up his share of the tab. Or hey, how about they schedule an appointment and meet him at his office where there are fewer distractions. And by my calculation, that works out to $500 a month; that's probably more than the entire food budget for his typical constituent, and $25 a day (assuming he takes weekends off "work"). Evidently the only people that are allowed to help him "build relationships and learn about issues" are those that are willing to purchase his attention, and he refuses to dine in places where he might have to mingle with the commoners.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 5:03 p.m.

THANKSGIVING FOR THE FREE LUNCH : I thank all the lobbyists for graciously providing free lunches to our Senate Majority Leader and other elected officials. I am particularly happy to read that Richardville is using food as a medium to build relationships. I often write and describe the functions of food and using food as a spiritual substance to develop spiritual relationships. If food is used properly it gives psychological satisfaction and it will prevent the problem of excessive eating that may lead to obesity. Feed him well but I would bill you if you increase my health care costs by contributing to the problem of obesity <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 4:23 p.m.

We the voters, most if not all who are taxpayers and who pay your salaries, are whom you lawmakers should be paying attention to, not the lobbyists. Enough of this legalized bribery. No wonder we are getting Bernard Madoff type legislation coming out of Washington, Lansing and everyplace else. All we are getting these days, especially in lieu of tax credits to rich, are legalized ponzi schemes. These acts of wickedness is just sickening.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 2:39 p.m.

That amazes me. My husband, who is a professional, attends many events/meetings and anymore, the only thing served is coffee, or water, sometimes a small snack, sometimes not even that. I don't see the necessity to spend that kind of money. Absurd.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 2:32 p.m.

I have only one comment - if its so essential to get free lunches, why don't ALL lawmakers do it? If some do, and some don't, then there is a question, isn't there?


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 1:47 p.m.

In these tuff economic times everybody is looking for handouts, if this guy was any good he would be getting free trips to warm places during the winter months like our Federal elected officials do.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

Would you be in favor of public financing for federal officials?


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 1:33 p.m.

So we need public financing of campaigns. Now watch the conservatives go nuts. Can't have it both ways. Who are these lobbyists? NRA, NEA, Auto Dealers Assoc, Plumbers union, Mackinac Center, AARP, in other words groups that many of us belong to or support. It is easy to attack &quot;lobbyists&quot;, but lets think about who they represent, it is not always the &quot;Other Guy&quot; . If you are upset over lunch, just think about &quot;Citizens United&quot;. That makes these free lunches pale in comparison and it can all be SECRET! No way to run a govt, unless you want govt run like a business.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 1:32 p.m.

Apparently we expect our elected officals to know everything. If someone runs for office as an ex- insurance executive we complain that they will favor the industry not the customers of the industry. If we elect a small business owner we expect they will favors owners and not employees. If we elect a variety of backgrounds to office then we must expect they have a learning curve for any particular topic. Do any of us not try our best to use our knowledge to help ourselves? I think we do. Lunches for real knowledge should be fine. Maximise the day of the legislator. Lunches for the sake of influence alone should be banned. How do you tell the difference? Excess. Is it reasonable to tie up a table in a busy restaurant for more then hour? Probably not. Is it better that they are at a public place as opposed to the closed door office meeting? I think so. What is our best foot foward? Meaning do we take the legislator to McDees or to a white table cloth restaurant? Business usually requires a written statement of the lunch discussion; so the IRS knows it was business lunch. The same should be done for legislators. Can they lie of course; but that's why we have frequent elections. As hard as we try we can't legislate morals &amp; ethics. We have to trust or change the offical. I do notice no ne talks about the pay of our part-time State legislators. Most have other jobs so time is of the essence. Fraught with possible violations of public trust for sure. What is a better system instead of a complaint?


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 6:36 p.m.

The base salary for these &quot;part-time&quot; legislators is over $71K. Though in all fairness, they did cut their own salaries from 2010. Still, not bad for a part-time gig; considerably more than the average Michigander- and certainly enough for them to be able to afford to buy their own lunch. Or here's a novel concept, if those that preach about everyone else pulling their own weight can't afford it: brown bag it and meet in his office so the &quot;part-time&quot; legislator can further maximize the use of his time.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 4:19 p.m.

&quot;...time is of the essence.&quot; I have no problem with legislators meeting with lobbyists as that is one way they can inform themselves. I also have no problem with them meeting during a meal. My question to you, as a defender of paid lunches, is why would the legislator need to have the meal paid for by the lobbyist? Wouldn't s/he eat anyway? Why the quid pro quo? Why is there any acceptable connection between the two? Even if the legislator feels s/he can meet with the lobbyist without favorable bias toward their issue, having the meal paid for by the lobbyist at least gives the appearance of possible impropriety. Why not avoid the risk altogether and just meet with no payment of any kind (including paid meals) being given?


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 1:12 p.m.

Joe_Citizen You are CORRECT in your statement.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 11:43 a.m.

So, who really runs the government starting with the federal government right on down the list -- politicians are brought and paid for -- very unfortunate. And, then they want more of our hard earned dollars to spend on whatever.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 12:46 a.m.

There should be a law against accepting anything other than limited cash contributions for campaigns.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 12:40 a.m.

Are these same government officials getting per diem reimbursements? If so, would that be double dipping at the expense ot the taxpayers?

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 10:26 p.m.

Oh I guess Ann Arbor's Senator Rebekah Warren got left out of this because...why again?

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 10:17 p.m.

So why haven't we heard about our local politician taking 'free' lunches from lobbyists&quot; &quot; September of 2011, Warren found herself outed by national political columnist Susan J. Demas as one of only 4 Michigan legislators who accepted over $1,800 in "free lunches" from lobbyists in 2011. The $1,804 worth of food and drink Senator Warren caged puts her solidly near the top in amounts accepted, and only one of two Dems in the 11 member heavily Republican group who've accepted over $1,000 in food and drink from lobbyists.&quot; <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 9:26 p.m.

Well thank God they are being well fed. Wouldn't want 'em to go hungry like those who have lost the SNAP benefits due to recent legislation have and will. Good Night and Good Luck


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 9:11 p.m.

The free meals are only the tip of the &quot;perc iceberg&quot;. Another way the politicians are bought off is by receiving lucrative speaking engagements at trade association events. Also, they're privvy to inside information from these lobbyists which they they then use to make profitable investments. And of course, there's the campaign constributions. All this adds up to purchased influence which the average American taxpayer can't compete with. The politicians' decisions are influenced FAR more by lobbyists and special interest groups than their constituents. That's the primary reason our political system is broken. The special interests support the political parties who then dictate to their politicians what to vote on. Guess who's welfare is last in line?

Hot Sam

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 7:33 p.m.

As long as we allow the tax code to be purchased, we will continue see this kind of thing. End the tax code and the majority of lobbying will end with it...


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 6:35 p.m.

Kudos to State Rep. Vickie Barnett, D-Farmington Hills, who holds the distinction of having the lowest lobbyist-paid tally, at $1.79 for the first six months of 2011, doesn't have a problem with special-interest groups paying for lunches.&quot;But I buy my own lunch,&quot; she said. &quot;If they want to reach me to give me information, they know how to contact me. I feel much more comfortable asking questions one-on-one in my office Wow, someone with sense.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 7:19 p.m.

A soda for a $1.69 with 6% sales tax? lol


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 7:05 p.m.

I agree, that is admirable. I am curious, though: what was that $1.79 for?


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 6:34 p.m.

Myself and my coworkers can't accept anything $20-$30, with the exception of the baskets/containers of cookies, meats/cheese they send around Christmas time...those just sit in the kitchen until they're all eaten anyway. This seems like an agregeous violation of ethics violations. Say each meal was a $20 lunch. That means that lobbists gave away 26,250 free meals in the first 6 months of the year.hat is rediculous. How many State of Michigan lawmakers are there? 26,250 lunches of $20 thru 180 days? That's 145 meals each day thru 6 months. Lobbying should be illegal. One thing to write, speak up and verbally try to persuade your cause. But the whole wine and dine attitude that goes shoudl be a federal crime up with racketering. It shoudln't surprise me that this stuff goes on, but it's deplorable. Mr. Richarville, $2,985 in tabs that someone else picked up? That's a free $20 lunch for the first 149 days of the year! Shenanigans!


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 6:21 p.m.

Those lunches may be free. But, they cost the taxpayer in the end. Count on it. Lobbyists represent big corporation and getting what they want. Lobbyists should be illegal and outlawed in this country and the politicians that get from them should be thrown out of office. Period. Mr. Richardville you should be ashamed. Good to know these are the type of relationships you like to build. With strings attached. Nothing is free.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 6:09 p.m.

This is a a perfect example of tax-free bribery while the tea party republicans continue merrily on their path of destroying our once great State. Michigan is among just a handful of states raising taxes on low-income working families while cutting taxes for other groups, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said in a report released just yesterday. How many more black eyes must Michigan endure before we demand a change in direction from the Governor and legislature????


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

Well, you explain the fact that it's the republicans reading taxes on low income working families while cutting others, just one of a handful of states? How Polyanna'ish is that? Don't like the facts? Repubs in Michigan have done nothing but take away from most, no focus on jobs, etc.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 6:31 p.m.

You don't think the Democrats are just as much on the take from big corporations and unions? Must be nice to live in Polyanna's world.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 6:05 p.m.

It's no wonder these politicians are completely out of touch with the issues that really matter. Their only source of input is from 100% biased industry interests. Why do we allow lobbying at all? Oh that's right, those getting the free lunch write the laws.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 6:01 p.m.

It should be a crime for an elected official to accept any gift from a citizen. Lobbyists only exist because officials want to use their political office for personal gain. If they really wanted to learn about an issue, research could offer a much less biased solution.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 6:01 p.m.

Reminds me of the interview with Jack Abramoff on 60 minutes. Unbelievable stuff goes on. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> .


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:59 p.m.

Everyone knows there's no such thing as a free lunch.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:42 p.m.

Shades of Wayne County. If lawmakers and politicians need to know about an issue, Why not invest time and energy in the doing the independent research to learn about it. The current system of using lobbyists is no more than influence paddling, and that is what has gotten us into the situation in Wayne County. Nothing is above board because of the influence of lobbyists.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

If having lunch with lobbyists is so critical to the law making function, why not pay for it out of the congressional budget? At least that way the amounts being spent could be made public to assure there is no quid pro quo. We probably could ask the wealthy lawmakers to pay for their own lunch because they would scream they need their entitlement payments (free lunches).


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.

According to the article, the analysis included 95 legislative sessions. Round it up to 100 (to include perhaps some luncheons in Lansing on non-legislative days). That averages to $29.85 per lunch for the Majority Leader, and that's assuming a luncheon every single day. That is an expensive lunch. If lobbyists want some of his time, and he wants to hear some of their views, fine. Let them meet and exchange information. But what about that interaction requires that it take place over a meal, or at least over a meal paid for by the lobbyist? Even if he (or others who accept free meals) can accept the free lunches without prejudice toward the lobbyists' interests, it has at least an appearance of impropriety and should be avoided. The legislators are hired by us, the people, and should do their work in a conscientious fashion without the need to be reimbursed by a lobbyist with a meal for their time. Although it is not considered unethical by the American Medical Association for physicians to accept a &quot;modest meal&quot; while meeting with, for example, pharmaceutical reps, I think it is equally unethical and objectionable and should be avoided.

Roy Munson

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.

There are far bigger problems out there in our government - REAL problems. Why get all worked up over this?


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 7:25 p.m.

This IS the number one problem in our government: lawmakers and public administrators that are out there actively peddling their votes and access to government contracts, for personal gain. Lobbyists wouldn't spend millions on lunches, theater tickets, and cocktail parties if it wasn't more effective than scheduling a meeting in an office environment, and it's the same reason most major companies have clamped down on gifts from vendors and those seeking company contracts. Why do you think we have Federal lawmakers wasting precious time and tax money revisiting taxpayer-subsidized school lunch health standards, doing something productive instead of arguing that pizza sauce should count as a &quot;vegetable&quot;? Because the lobbyists for the frozen pizza makers and potato growers spent millions purchasing their time- clearly more than what those selling healthier school lunch alternatives were willing to pay, and enough to thumb their noses at professional nutritionists.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 6:03 p.m.

Because this is the root of the problem with government. Officials are easily corrupted. They're on the take from the minute they begin begging for campaign donations.

Kara H

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:20 p.m.

I think because things like this have a tip of the iceberg feel. It's hard for us non-insiders to see and get our heads around some of the really big ethics and political hanky panky, but stuff like this points to a culture that makes bigger violations of public trust believable. Which makes the &quot;real&quot; problems, as you call them, that much less likely to be addressed responsibly by the same lawmakers who violate our trust on smaller issues, like lunch.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:01 p.m.

Ok, so the lunch helps him with his job and gaining information, I do the same with my job working with the Federal Government...The only difference: * Michigan lawmakers get a free lunch * I pay for mine REASON: its called Ethics Violations (any event or situation which &quot;suggests&quot; a conflict of interest or &quot;special treatment&quot;...I cannot accept more than $20 per calendar year in &quot;gifts&quot;. This situation should be no diferent and screams of Ethics want to gain info, pay your own lunch!


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 4:57 p.m.

&quot;&quot;What people don't understand: This job is more about relationships than anything else,&quot; he said. &quot;I'm in a high-ranking position. People want to spend time with me.&quot; And he wants to spend time with them. &quot;I have to learn about the issues and build relationships as a part of my job,&quot; Richardville said.&quot; Hey Richardville, how about getting out in public with us rabble and learning about how the issues affect the actual residents you represent? Oh, thats right, we won't be feeding you because we can barely feed ourselves thanks to you guys, so don't mind us over here in the low ranks. No shocker on Hune being in the top, shame on Warren for being right in there too.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 4:53 p.m.

And right behind it are physicians who's decisions on what medications to prescribe are influenced by a constant flood of pharmaceutical-provided food. Nothing in this world seems fair anymore.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 4:43 p.m.

So what is the problem here, this is business as usual. Lobbying should be illegal and thought of as a federal crime, and have 10 years to life behind bars. On top of that, be black listed from ever coming near a government official again. This country's political halls are filled with payoffs, and bribes. This is the biggest problem with government today. The reason we are in the shape we are in.