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This is the third installment in a series examining the cycle of


influence in the state

Legislature - how campaign contributions,


lobbyist spending and personal financial interests

affect legislation.











    The care and feeding of the West Virginia Legislature does not come





    In the past five years, lobbyists have spent more than $1


    million on West Virginia's government

    officials for meals, receptions


    and campaign contributions, according to a computer-assisted



    of lobbyist disclosure forms. Most of that spending goes to state





    That money spent on meals, gifts and receptions does not buy votes


    directly, said the Rev.

    Nathan Wilson, lobbyist for the West Virginia


    Council of Churches. "But it gets lobbyists into



    legislator's office," he said. "It buys them access."



    Some special-interest groups may have bought themselves more access


    than others. Since 1996,

    gambling lobbyists spent more than


    $220,000. That is 66 times as much as anti-gambling



    who spent approximately $3,333.



    State legislators are asked to be experts in everything. One


    day, they are debating electricity

    deregulation, the next, whether to


    tax barroom video poker machines. When they don't know much

    about an


    issue, they look for someone nearby who does. Very often, that person is a





    Larry Swann is a former legislator from Doddridge County who now


    lobbies in several issue

    areas, including gambling, health and


    utilities. Swann spent the second-highest amount on

    meals, receptions


    and gifts of any lobbyist since 1996, more than $37,000.



    Swann helped sponsor receptions for legislators at the


    Charleston Marriott, Embassy Suites and

    Edgewood Country Club.



    The money he spends on meals and receptions is for "relationship


    building" between lobbyists,

    the clients and legislators,


    Swann said.



    "You chat with people about baseball or football," he said. "There's


  • ot a lot of talking about

    issues at those venues."



    Wilson's group also sponsors a legislative reception, but the


  • o-frills, no-alcohol event costs

    only about $300.



    "Legislators should be more in touch with their constituents.


    But spending $10,000 to achieve

    that goal is a farce," Wilson said.



    Swann said that the meals and receptions do not give his clients an


    unfair advantage, or take

    away from the ability of the average citizen


    to contact their legislature.



    "The vast majority of legislators are open-minded and willing to


    listen to all sides," Swann




    But an environmental lobbyist thinks those personal relationships pay


    off when legislators need

    advice about a bill. Rick Eades, with


    the West Virginia Environmental Council, said one story

    shows the


    difference in access that money can buy.



    Eades remembers standing outside the Senate Finance Committee minutes


    before they took up a

    bill dealing with mountaintop removal. A door to


    a side room opened, and he saw several

    legislators huddled


    around a prominent coal lobbyist with a notebook in his hand.



    "It was like football players around their coach," he said. "He was


    holding court."



    When Eades approached the group, he said they drifted away. He


    pidgeonholed one senator. "I

    told him that we have opinions on this


    issue too, but I only got 30 seconds with him," he said.



    Coal, Oil and Gas, and Timber lobbyists have spent more than


    $175,000 in the last five years,

    while environmental lobbyists


  • pent approximately $1,200.


    John Hodges and Swann are first and second in lobbyist spending since


    1996. Rounding out the

    top five are: Michael Herron, Independent Oil


    and Gas Association of W.Va., $32,127; Jim Bowen,

    AFL-CIO, $29,764; and


    Nelson Robinson, gambling, transportation and other business






    Lobbyists spend money on more than just meals and receptions.


    Some of the largest lobbyists

    give campaign contributions to


    candidates as well. For example, the biggest spending lobbyist,



    reported giving $5,300 in campaign contributions to West Virginia


    candidates since Jan.

    1. Hodges spent more than $55,000 lobbying for


    gambling, tobacco and business interests since

    1996. Swann gave $1,550


    in campaign contributions in the same period.



    "How can they afford these large campaign contributions?" said Norm


    Steenstra, a lobbyist

    himself for Citizens Action Group, a nonprofit


    organization in Charleston that works on various

    reform issues. "What


    is Larry Swann making? We don't know."



    Other states require lobbyists to disclose much more information


    than West Virginia.



    For example, Maryland asks each group that lobbies its legislature to


    reveal the total amount

    it spends for salaries, overhead and other


    expenses - not just meals and gifts.



    Maryland also asks for lobbyist salaries - the top salary is more than


    $1 million, while 79

    lobbyists get more than $50,000 for their





    Steenstra calls for similar disclosure of the total spending of


    lobbyists in West Virginia.



    In the end, nothing short of massive public action can challenge the


    influence of big-spending




    "It will take a groundswell of citizen involvement to change things,"


    he said.



    "Come November, citizens should vote for those legislators who


    are protecting the interests of

    all the people."



    To contact staff writer Scott Finn, use e-mail or call 357-4323.




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