Jetton- Trip paid by lobbyists not for government business

Friday, April 1, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Lobbyists helped cover lodging and meals for nine Republican House members who vacationed at a tourist spot in Arkansas during their week off.

The House Communications Office provided information on the lawmakers, who included several members of the House leadership, and eight lobbyists. Communications director Todd Abrajano said some lawmakers covered their own costs, but he could not say who, or detail exactly what the total cost was.

The group vacationed in Hot Springs, Ark., a tourist spot popular for horse racing, spas and golf, and stayed at the Arlington Hotel.

Key among the attendees was Speaker Rod Jetton, who said he and his wife had been there before and decided to travel there again during the legislature's break, which was March 18 through Monday. He said he decided to open the trip up to other members of the Republican caucus, and they and their spouses made the weekend trip.

Jetton said he didn't know whose decision it was to have lobbyists help cover the costs, but said he didn't ask them to foot the bill.

Jetton said the trip was purely for relaxation, not government business, and said lobbyists covering some costs is no different than when they pick up meals for lawmakers at the Capitol.

"I don't think it's a big deal," said Jetton, R-Marble Hill. "Lobbyists pay for meals and travel sometimes when you're in the state."

Jetton said his room was covered by lobbyists, but didn't say who.

Abrajano said others who attended were: House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, of St. Charles; Rep. Jack Goodman, of Mt. Vernon; Rep. Brian Nieves, of Washington; Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, of Joplin; Rep. Shannon Cooper, of Clinton; Rep. Rex Rector, of Harrisonville; Rep. Brad Roark, of Springfield; and Rep. Jay Wasson, of Nixa.

Bearden, Goodman and Wasson said they paid for their own rooms.

Roark said he didn't know who paid for his room, but added: "These types of things do not affect legislators in their decision making."

Nieves told the Columbia Daily Tribune that the trip did not involve state funds but declined to say whether lobbyists paid any of his expenses.

"What I did on spring break that does not involve any taxpayer dollars is nobody's business," he said.

Cooper told the Tribune he often visits Hot Springs during the legislative break, but would not say who paid for his trip this year.

Rector and Ruestman did not return calls to The Associated Press seeking comment.

Among the lobbyists who chipped in, according to Abrajano, were Andy Blunt, brother of Gov. Matt Blunt, Harry Gallagher, Bill Gamble and Nathan Adams.

Adams, executive director of the Citizens Health Care Association, said he traveled down and covered costs for a breakfast on the trip, but said he didn't know how much it cost because he didn't have the bill yet.

"I don't see the difference between buying a breakfast in Jeff City and one in Hot Springs, Arkansas," he said. "We didn't really discuss any issues at breakfast."

Blunt, Gallagher and Gamble did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment.

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