CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the state Ethics Commission got into an interesting discussion Thursday about whether groups in general, and county Economic Development Authorities in particular, should be allowed to solicit funds from businesses to underwrite costs of hosting said groups' "Day at the Legislature."
The argument against, raised by Chairman Kemp Morton and Douglas Sutton, was that the "days" allow sponsoring businesses to effectively lobby the Legislature without having to report spending through their lobbyists' financial disclosures.
During most weekdays during the session, every day is some group or organization's "Day at the Legislature," and frequently, there are multiple "days" on the same day.
This week alone, there will be days for tourism, the state Primary Care Association, Marshall, and Corrections (Big C, not little c), as well as Women's Day, History Day, and McDonald's Salad Day.
(The latter started when then-Sen. Dan Foster was pushing legislation to require chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus and menu boards, so promoting McDonald's as a purveyor of healthy salads was a brilliant PR move on somebody's part.)
A quick count comes up with at least 36 separate "Days at the Legislature," including county days for Preston, Tucker, McDowell and Wyoming counties.
Generally, each "day" consists of booths and displays around the rotunda and second floor of the Capitol, recognitions during House and Senate floor sessions, frequently along with boxed or catered lunches for legislators, and an evening reception and/or dinner.
While the Ethics Commission concluded it lacked authority under the law to reign in solicitations for such events, my impression is that the "Days at the Legislature" have been considerably scaled-back this session.
Whether because of weather, the chemical scare, or the economy, attendance and displays for the "days" so far this session have been well down from past years.
Friday, for example, was Arts Day, and fully half the tables available for displays were empty.
Questions about the long-term effects of the chemical leak on tourism and conference/convention business in Charleston sent me into the paper's archives, to refresh my memory on the last time a chemical incident generated this type of national coverage -- the Union Carbide Institute plant leak of August 1985.