Hey, where did that food come from?
“The Rules Committee,” said a legislative staffer, balancing an overloaded paper plate as he rushed back toward the Senate.
The Gold Dome on Crossover Deal takes on the air of a lock-in, and for years, lobbyists have made sure lawmakers, staffers and assorted hangers-on do not go hungry on one of the most important legislative days of the year.
Every year caterers set up steam trays in offices and committee rooms around the Capitol and across the street in the Coverdell Legislative Office Building as harried lawmakers cram a meal into a schedule that doesn’t have room for food.
Last year, lobbyists reported spending $15,815 on Crossover Day, most of it going toward large buffet-style meals. Every conceivable special interest pitched in, from utilities to the poultry industry to the hospitals.
For example, 27 lobbyists for a variety of interests split the $4,458 cost of a Day 30 dinner for the House of Representatives. But there were separate expenditures for the House Republican Caucus, the House Democratic Caucus, House Republican Leadership and the House Clerk’s office, among others. And that’s just on the House side.
Last year’s Crossover Day feasts may have set a record. In 2011, receipts totaled $13,353. In 2010, costs didn’t even crack $8,000.
The catering trucks came and went Thursday, but it will be a week or more before lobbyists file their spending reports. From appearances, this could be an off year.
Young legislative pages lined up for Chick-fil-a sandwiches in one of the larger rooms, while top lobbyists John “Trip” Martin and Arthur “Skin” Edge staged a modest lunch for House Democrats in another, but there were no ostentatious culinary displays.
Lobbyist expenses are down generally this year, continuing a trend that began last year when reform advocates began demanding the Legislature limit gifts from special interests. Remedies in play would do little to affect this kind of spending, however.
House Bill 142 bans some lobbyist spending but exempts food and beverages made available to groups of lawmakers. The Senate rule, adopted in January, caps gifts at $100, but has many of the same exemptions.