Wining and dining; funds lobbyists spent the real outrage

Our language is full of terms indicating how important eating and drinking are in relationships: wine and dine, feed at the trough, chew the fat, eat out of the palm of your hand.

Every day, important deals — be they business or personal — are sealed over food and drink.

Judging from a recent report by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, this clearly isn't lost on the interests that want something from the General Assembly.

In the first two months of this year, as the recent session was getting underway, they spent more than $77,000 entertaining lawmakers. The Associated Press figured that comes to an average of almost $560 per lawmaker.

No surprise, really, about who is pouring food and drink into the legislative trough.

For example, an "Energy Reception" at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort was sponsored by Coal Operators and Associates, Kentucky Coal Association, Kentucky Oil and Gas Association and West Kentucky Coal Association — each chipping in $3,687 for a total of $14,748.

No wonder coal interests continue to enjoy such a charmed relationship with lawmakers, who again turned down legislation that would have prohibited coal operators from dumping waste from mountaintop removal mining into streams.

"That ability to talk one-on-one with our elected leaders is important," Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett told the AP, "so they don't forget about us."

As Kentucky Common Cause chairman Richard Belilies told the AP, the people who suffer the effects of toxic mine wastes don't have the same opportunities. Without the deep pockets to buy a chat with lawmakers in a relaxed, sociable setting, drinks in hand, it's hard to make sure they'll be remembered.

This session was no exception. When the AP added in the entertainment reported for 2012, $143,000 — the total over the 14 months — came to over $1,000 per legislator.

Somehow in this light the $1,000 total taxpayers were billed for take-out barbecue dinners, with lemonade and iced tea, for state senators and staff on the last night of the session doesn't seem like such a bad deal.

After all, it meant they could stay on the floor until that last night doing the public's business in public.

As taxpayers, it would be nice to think that, as they worked until midnight passing legislation that will affect us all, they remembered who bought their dinners.