This is the third installment in a series examining the cycle of
influence in the state
Legislature - how campaign contributions,
lobbyist spending and personal financial interests
The care and feeding of the West Virginia Legislature does not come
In the past five years, lobbyists have spent more than $1
million on West Virginia's government
officials for meals, receptions
and campaign contributions, according to a computer-assisted
of lobbyist disclosure forms. Most of that spending goes to state
That money spent on meals, gifts and receptions does not buy votes
directly, said the Rev.
Nathan Wilson, lobbyist for the West Virginia
Council of Churches. "But it gets lobbyists into
legislator's office," he said. "It buys them access."
Some special-interest groups may have bought themselves more access
than others. Since 1996,
gambling lobbyists spent more than
$220,000. That is 66 times as much as anti-gambling
who spent approximately $3,333.
State legislators are asked to be experts in everything. One
day, they are debating electricity
deregulation, the next, whether to
tax barroom video poker machines. When they don't know much
issue, they look for someone nearby who does. Very often, that person is a
Larry Swann is a former legislator from Doddridge County who now
lobbies in several issue
areas, including gambling, health and
utilities. Swann spent the second-highest amount on
and gifts of any lobbyist since 1996, more than $37,000.
Swann helped sponsor receptions for legislators at the
Charleston Marriott, Embassy Suites and
Edgewood Country Club.
The money he spends on meals and receptions is for "relationship
building" between lobbyists,
the clients and legislators,
"You chat with people about baseball or football," he said. "There's
issues at those venues."
Wilson's group also sponsors a legislative reception, but the
only about $300.
"Legislators should be more in touch with their constituents.
But spending $10,000 to achieve
that goal is a farce," Wilson said.
Swann said that the meals and receptions do not give his clients an
unfair advantage, or take
away from the ability of the average citizen
to contact their legislature.
"The vast majority of legislators are open-minded and willing to
listen to all sides," Swann
But an environmental lobbyist thinks those personal relationships pay
off when legislators need