How would you like to eat a meal with a Utah legislator two days out of every three?
And that would be when the 104 part-time lawmakers are not in their 45-day general session. When lawmakers are on Capitol Hill, you would be seeing them eight, 10, even 12 hours a day.
How about playing golf with legislators once a week, or traveling to what would be a fun city, like New Orleans, and spending your time talking to Utah legislators and/or entertaining them instead of seeing the sights?
For dozens of Utah lobbyists, building personal relationships with people who you may or may not have much in common with is all part of the job.
Still, some lobbyists thrive on their work.
Recent lobbyist filings show that independent, contract lobbyist Paul Rogers from April 1 to June 30 paid for a meal with a Utah lawmaker on average two out of every three days. And some days, Rogers said, he had two breakfasts or two lunches with different legislators. In one six-day stretch he bought a meal for one lawmaker, sometimes two legislators, a day.
"It takes a lot of time, not just talking to legislators, but logistically setting up the time to talk to them," said Rogers, who as a partner in the independent lobbying firm the Tetris Group is one of the most successful lobbyists in Utah.
The latest lobbyist reports show that since the first of the year including the 2008 Legislature where lobbyists hobnob daily with lawmakers several hundred lobbyists have spent $130,878 in "gifts" to lawmakers. Since April 1, it's been $24,749.
In his latest lobbyist report, Rogers spent $1,043.58 on 51 separate "expenses" with legislators over the last three months, by far most being meals. All of those expenses are under $50, and so don't come with the accepting legislators' names attached. (You can view lobbyists' reports at secure.utah .gov/lobbyist/lobbysearch.)
Rogers was a state senator during the 1980s, leaving in 1988 to start lobbying. His latest filing shows he has 33 clients, including some heavyweights in the business community like the Utah Bankers Association and PacifiCorp.
While lobbying is work, Rogers says talking with legislators is not a bad job. In fact, it is a good one.
"For the most part they are very pleasant people. Seeing them is not a challenge. But it is a challenge to get in front of so many people" so often, Rogers said. And in his mind, face-to-face talk is the best way to not only provide information to lawmakers, but to get feedback from them.
"Especially when you are at first framing an issue" that you are taking to the Legislature, "it is enormously valuable" to get legislators' views.
Some lawmakers don't want to talk face-to-face, but will talk on the telephone. A few don't want to talk about an issue at all, Rogers said. But most are willing to listen. In fact, they want the information a lobbyist has, Rogers said. "There are some (legislators) who will go Dutch pay their half of the lunch. They don't want me to expense anything to them."
By "expense," Rogers means place how much he spent on the legislator on his financial filing report. If a lobbyist spends more than $50 on a lawmaker in one day, by law the lawmaker's name must be on the report. Less than $50 and the lobbyist only has to list the amount spent, the day it was spent and what it was spent on, like a meal or "entertainment."
Rogers is blunt about how he works he tries not to spend more than $50 a day on a legislator. "We don't want to be in the media (for giving gifts) as much as the legislators" don't want to be in the media for accepting them.
Accordingly, "Most of my expenses are breakfasts and lunches. You can really get into some money for dinners" at a high-class restaurant. Rogers lists one legislative meal at only $2.84, while an "entertainment" was $48, just $2 short of the naming level.
"Anyway, at night legislators want to be with their families and I want to be with my family watching my grandkids play baseball" not talking to clients and legislators, Rogers said.
While some lobbyists often take lawmakers to Utah Jazz games all good seats are over $50 or to expensive restaurants, Rogers is one of a growing number of lobbyists who works in more modest means, even if they have the wherewithal to spend more on legislators.
"My firm, Tetris, has season Jazz tickets. We use those for ourselves and our families. I'm finding that many legislators don't want those (more expensive gifts)," Rogers said.
Rogers said of his pace of two legislative meals in three days over the last three months: "I have been beating the bushes pretty hard meeting with (legislators) to deliver campaign checks from clients," setting up meet-and-greets with clients and generally staying in touch with lawmakers on client issues that will be coming up in the 2009 Legislature.
The success of the Tetris Group has advantages besides money he and his two partners can pick and choose. "We take on issues we believe in. I get excited when we do something (with lawmakers) that are good public policy like teaching English to non-English speakers (one of his special projects)." Lobbyists "want to improve the community we live in" even if you don't read about that in media reports on lobbyist disclosures.
Rogers believes lobbying is changing at the Legislature. More and more, he sees lobbyist/legislative contacts that carry no meal or other expenditure. "I think before too long, you won't see any lobbyists spending $50" or more on legislators."And I also see less lobbying at national (legislative) conventions going and picking up the tab" to entertain attending Utah legislators. Such out-of-state entertaining is almost always over $50 per legislator per day with the required public disclosure of the legislators' names coming with it. Said Rogers, fewer lobbyists "have the appetite for it."
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