The arrest of four Alabama state legislators and three lobbyists has exposed what has long been a too cozy relationship between the two groups, say critics.
The indictment handed down earlier this month alleges that Alabama legislators and lobbyists broke the law by trading votes for cash and other perks in order to pass pro-gambling legislation. But what is actually permitted under Alabama law is also shocking, according to good government advocates, and a symptom of a larger national problem.
Alabama allows lobbyists to spend up to $250 a day on an individual legislator without disclosure – or more than $90,000 a year, an amount that Ellen Miller of government watchdog The Sunlight Foundation calls "outrageous."
"That's a lot of money," said Miller, executive director of the DC-based group. "It has to be one of the worse practices that I've heard of at the state level."
Two months before the arrests in Alabama, ABC News found four Alabama lawmakers and a gambling lobbyist enjoying a round of golf together at a posh Kentucky golf course.
Apparently, some members of the group playing at Persimmon Ridge did not want to be found. Alabama State Rep. Artis McCampbell, a Demopolis Democrat, responded to questions from an ABC News crew by brandishing his golf club. "Look, if you don't want me to take this to you, then leave!" he said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures annual convention was in full swing in Louisville, Kentucky, on the afternoon of July 27, with a well-attended session called "How Good Is Your Legislature?" But at 3 p.m. ABC News found Alabama gaming lobbyist Greg Jones, Rep. McCampbell and three other Alabama lawmakers more than 20 miles away on the links.
Though none of the lawmakers with Jones would turn out to be among those arrested, all were supporters of the gambling bill at the heart of the current Alabama corruption scandal. Three of the four had also received tens of thousands in campaign donations from Greenetrack, a gaming client of Jones'.
The Persimmon Ridge golf group was listed under Jones' name, but Jones did not return calls from ABC News asking him to confirm that he paid the greens fees. Asked who had paid for the outing, one golfer, Republican State Rep. Harry Shiver, told ABC News, "They paid for some of it, I paid for the rest of it."
Shiver and the other three legislators did not respond to subsequent requests from ABC for more information about who had footed the bill. But even if Jones did pay, the Persimmon Ridge outing was perfectly legal under state law. Eighteen holes of golf at Persimmon Ridge costs from $70 to $80 per person, far below the $250 cap allowed in Alabama.
Lobbying rules in Alabama are some of the most lenient in the nation. Jim Sumner, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, has long advocated for a reduction in the spending limit. He calls the existing rules "outlandish ... It's far above the norm for hospitality and entertainment around the country."