A total ban on gifts helps limit the most overt
corruption, and it also prevents lobbyists from sharing expensive meals with
legislators as a way to establish and maintain a cozy personal relationship.
While some states have restricted gifts, others still see large amounts
of spending by lobbyists on legislators. In California last year,
lawmakers and gubernatorial aides accepted close to $1 million in meals and
entertainment from lobbyists.
There is no reason for lawmakers to be receiving gifts from lobbyists.
New York recently limited all gifts given in a year to $75 per
legislator. Iowa has a good model law
(Iowa Code Chapter 68B, Section 22) with limited and well crafted
exemptions. At least seven states have a
total ban on gifts.
Many states have suffered from public officials being involved in
ethics scandals. While sometimes there is talk of reform and other
overtures, comprehensive reform is most often elusive. However, some
states have managed, either in response to one particularly egregious
event or a history of problems being overturned in a wave of
dissatisfaction, to truly make a fundamental change. This year
Connecticut once again moved forward with a multi-year ethics reform
initiative, and Louisiana enacted one of the most far-reaching ethics
overhauls any state has in generations.
At the core of many voters' frustrations with government is the sense
that, too often, politics is for sale. High-priced lobbyists offering
"gifts" to lawmakers swarm state legislatures; companies looking for
public contracts get too cozy with those handing out public money; and
corporate campaign contributions grease the wheels as public policy is
auctioned to the highest corporate bidder.