Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis, R-Crowley 

Kelly J Morvant

When people in politics talk about a free lunch, they're often speaking metaphorically about the idea of receiving something for nothing.

Newly elected Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis, a Crowley Republican and former chair of the state GOP, is taking the concept literally. Francis is pushing a reversal of ethics restrictions that prohibit PSC members from accepting meals and other entertainment from the utilities they regulate.

“Over the years I’ve been in business, the last 40 years, I’ve always had business lunches. We do business over lunch. It’s a pretty standard procedure in the real work world,” Francis told The Advocate earlier this week.

Let's put aside for a moment Francis' suggestion that the PSC's affairs somehow don't constitute "real work." What he's leaving out is that the work the commission does is fundamentally different from what happens in the private sector, where the 70-year-old has spent his career until now.

When public officials accept freebies from the companies they regulate, it creates both the possibility that they'll feel beholden to their benefactors, and the appearance of a level of access and coziness that ratepayers can't hope to replicate.

Speaking of appearances, it didn't help that the vote was originally set for a Wednesday meeting in Toledo Bend, more than 200 miles from Baton Rouge, where the PSC normally meets and a location without adequate live-streaming capacity. Commissioners apparently thought better of that idea, and postponed the vote until next month's meeting, which will take place back in Baton Rouge.

At least that way they'll have to act in front of reporters and interested citizens who wouldn't have been able to make the drive to Toledo Bend. You know, the type of people who ask questions.

So here's one I'd like to throw out, just to get things started: Is it really so hard to "do business" when you're splitting the check?

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.