Who’s really being wined and dined? Louisiana legislators trying to clear up vague lobbyist disclosure laws _lowres

State Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond,

Looking at recent lobbying reports, one would think that Louisiana Rep. Chris Broadwater has been lavished with dinners from lobbyists.

But as Broadwater noted in a recent House committee meeting, he didn’t attend many of the events where his name is listed in lobbyist disclosure reports and he wasn’t treated to nearly all the fancy steak dinners that were ascribed to him.

“Many of the reports, not only did I not attend, I didn’t know the event was even occurring,” said Broadwater, R-Hammond.

Louisiana’s lobbying disclosure laws leave large gaps that lawmakers are trying to fix this year — even after Bobby Jindal, who ran for governor on a promise to clean up Louisiana’s ethics laws, is no longer in office.

Several bills making their way through the Legislature this session are aimed at making disclosures more specific — from lobbyists’ reports to the financial disclosures that elected officials have to file.

“We work with some very good lobbyists, but I think there are some mistakes made,” Broadwater said. “I just don’t want somebody else getting unfairly and erroneously labeled as doing something that appears improper.”

Lobbyists spent more than $103,000 on elected officials in January and February of this year — the most recent data available — and most of that went to wining and dining members of the legislative branch.

Jindal, who served as governor from 2008 to January of this year, ran on a platform of cleaning up the muddied image of Louisiana politics, pushing what he called the “gold standard of ethics.” But eight years later, holes remain and leave questions about how much is known about the people trying to influence state government.

Under state law, lobbyists — people who are paid to curry favor at the State Capitol for their clients — are required to disclose monthly the charges they incur when trying to make their clients’ cases to legislators and other elected officials.

That can mean dinners, event tickets, drinks at bars and other expenses, but reports are often vague and rarely include specifics on the transactions. They largely say who was invited to dinner or who was offered gifts — not who actually took them.

According to documents from the state Ethics Administration, lobbyists spent nearly $500,000 on wooing state government officials in 2015. In 2014, the total was about $517,000.

But the vague disclosure laws make it difficult to tell who is benefiting and how.

Broadwater said his attention was first brought to the situation when a New Orleans television station confronted him and then ran a story accusing him of taking lavish meals and other favors from lobbyists.

One report erroneously claimed that his young daughter had been treated to an expensive steak dinner in Chicago, he said.

“As you can imagine, I was a little upset by that,” he said. “My children have never even been to Chicago.”

Broadwater’s bill would force lobbyists to list not just whom they invited to their events but also which lawmakers didn’t attend. House Bill 585 is heading to the House floor this week.

Broadwater said he has consulted with lobbyists on fine-tuning the bill.

“The solution I’m trying to bring about is very narrow,” Broadwater said. “A majority of the individuals we work with as lobbyists do reports well.”

But other efforts haven’t fared so well.

Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, this year sponsored a bill, House Bill 770, that would require more disclosure about lobbyists’ relationships with legislators and sources of potential conflict. But the bill faced hurdles when it came up in committee recently.

“It should be disclosed so that sunshine will inhibit any inappropriate contacts between lobbyists and legislators,” Morris argued. “It’s to give more confidence in our legislative process that we aren’t overly influenced by relationships with lobbyists.”

Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, said he was concerned that too many disclosure requirements would affect only those who follow the law and would inundate the public with too much information for them to discern what was important and what wasn’t.

“I personally agree with transparency,” he said. “(But) only people doing things by the book are going to come under scrutiny — and for nothing at all. I don’t think it’s fair.”

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.