Missouri politicians enjoyed World Series thanks to lobbyists

2011-12-02T00:15:00Z 2012-01-11T18:51:48Z Missouri politicians enjoyed World Series thanks to lobbyistsBY JAKE WAGMAN • jwagman@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8268 stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • For Cardinals fans, October was a wild ride that ended in the team's 11th World Series championship.

For many state and local officials, it was a free ticket bonanza courtesy of corporate lobbyists, who spent about $13,500 taking lawmakers to the World Series and other playoff games at Busch Stadium.

The total, according to Ethics Commission filings released Thursday, includes officials who accepted free postseason tickets for themselves and family members, and legislators who traveled from across the state to watch the World Series in a private suite.

State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, accepted free tickets to a divisional series game, then took one of his children to the World Series, also with tickets provided by a lobbyist. State Rep. Steve Webb, D-Florissant, and a family member accepted more than $900 in Cardinals playoff tickets from Ameren and AT&T, a total that includes food and beverages.

State Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis, had tickets to two World Series games, courtesy of lobbyists for AT&T and Ameren as well.

"I wish that I had a thousand of those tickets to give away," said May, who works as a service representative for AT&T. "I hadn't even planned to go. I was just asked, and I accepted."

Unlike other states, Missouri places no limit on gifts to lawmakers — so long as they are reported, they are legal. So lobbyists in the state often shower politicians with meals and other gifts. Critics of such gifts say they can cause conflicts and give lobbyists undue sway over lawmakers.

In October, a playoff run by the Cardinals provided a golden gift opportunity for lobbyists. In all, about 35 local and state officials accepted free tickets for themselves and family members.

Nieves insisted that the tickets and other freebies don't influence his actions in the state Capitol.

"Nobody, no time, nowhere, no how is going to have any influence on me," he said. "I have never been influenced — that stuff is a joke."

Elsewhere, though, free World Series tickets have gotten lawmakers in trouble. In New York, former Gov. David Paterson, whose rocky tenure was already a national punchline, was hit with a $62,000 ethics fine for improperly soliciting World Series tickets from the Yankees.

In Missouri, lobbyists are required to report the value of the gift to the state Ethics Commission but, for a commodity like Cardinals playoff tickets, the cost might not represent the true worth.

Some lobbyists who handed out free World Series tickets reported the tickets were worth $250. Though that may have been the face value, many fans paid hundreds more, if not thousands, to see a game.

Most fans, unlike lawmakers, also didn't have access to corporate suites during the postseason.

AT&T provided about $3,000 worth of Cardinals playoffs tickets to local and state officials watching the game from the company's box at Busch Stadium.

"It's an opportunity for us to talk about issues," important to St. Louis and AT&T, said the company's Missouri president, John Sondag. He cited the firm's effort to buy rival T-Mobile as an example.

Was there a lot of room to discuss issues during the heart-pounding World Series?

"You've been to a baseball game," Sondag said. "There is time between pitches and time between innings."

No one bought lawmakers more Cardinals playoff tickets than Ameren, which has been lobbying the Legislature as it seeks to build a second nuclear plant. The utility spent about $7,700 on Cardinals tickets and ballbark food for local and state officials, according to lobbyist filings.

Among those attending the World Series on Ameren's dime was Nieves, whose district includes an Ameren plant. Asked what message it may send to taxpayers that lawmakers get coveted tickets for free, Nieves said, "I have absolutely no idea."

"It's not intended to send a message," Nieves said. "There is no message in it."

State lawmakers weren't the only ones who accepted free playoff passes. At City Hall, St. Louis aldermen Sam Moore and Marlene Davis accepted free World Series tickets.

In St. Louis County, Democratic council members Michael O'Mara and Pat Dolan accepted free tickets to the League Championship Series against the Brewers.

Free Cardinals tickets proved alluring enough to draw lawmakers from across the state to make the trek to downtown St. Louis.

State Rep. Darrell Pollock, R-Lebanon, made the drive from south central Missouri after learning that AT&T had room in its box for Game 6.

Pollock is head of the House Utilities Committee, whose jurisdiction includes telecommunications laws.

"Looking back, I think a lot of people would have liked to have been at that game," Pollock said. "It was a very, very exciting game."

Even so, it's not as though the night was "laid out like a red carpet" for lawmakers attending the game, Pollock said.

He still had to pay for his own parking.

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