What's the best way to buy influence at the statehouse? (w/poll)

A story in the Sunday Des Moines Register got me thinking about how money affects what happens and doesn’t happen in the Iowa House and Senate. The gist of the article is that many interest groups are providing free food and drink to legislators without properly disclosing how much they spend on these events.

State officials concede the disclosure law is not enforced. Senate Ethics Committee Vice Chairman Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, said he does not recall any organization ever being punished for not filing reception disclosures properly.

“I don’t know if anyone ever checks them,” Dearden said. […]

Filings from groups that complied with the law show interest groups have spent $187,000 this year to arrange at least 66 events. That is about 4 percent less than was spent during last year’s legislative session and 15 percent less than in 2007.

Reported spending on the legislative parties peaked at $264,000 in 2005, when the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board oversaw the disclosures.

Enforcement has since shifted to the House and Senate ethics committees, and reported spending has declined each year since. […]

Tracking exactly which or how many organizations filed their reports properly is difficult because there is no master list of receptions and no state officials are charged with verifying the filings.

[Charlie] Smithson [executive director of the Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board] said groups were never punished for failing to file when his board oversaw the disclosures, but his staff reviewed the Legislature’s social calendar regularly and reminded groups to send proper documents.

It’s not encouraging to learn that no one is enforcing our disclosure rules. I know legislative receptions are probably not the most important way to buy political influence, but someone should be making groups comply with the rules.

After the jump I briefly examine a few of the ways an interest group with an agenda and a pile of cash could use that money. There’s also a poll at the end–please vote!

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