Lobbyists paid for Mo. lawmakers' playoffs tickets

Friday, December 2, 2011

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Missouri lawmakers from both major parties had choice seats for the Cardinals' championship run, courtesy of lobbyists for Ameren, AT&T and other companies.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that lobbyists spent about $13,500 taking elected officials and their family members to World Series and playoff games in private suites at Busch Stadium.

The report shows that those accepting free tickets included state senators and representatives, along with elected officials from St. Louis city and county. In all, about 35 officials accepted free tickets for themselves and relatives.

State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, accepted tickets to a divisional series game, then took one of his children to the World Series, according to the Post-Dispatch. State Rep. Steve Webb, D-Florissant, and a family member accepted more than $900 in playoff tickets, food and beverages from Ameren Corp. and AT&T. State Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis, had tickets to two World Series games, also from AT&T and Ameren.

"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."

Missouri places no limit on gifts to lawmakers -- they are legal as long as they are reported. Critics contend the gifts can create conflicts of interest and give lobbyists undue sway.

Nieves downplayed the influence of the freebies.

"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."

But free World Series tickets have gotten lawmakers in trouble elsewhere. Former New York Gov. David Patterson received a $62,000 ethics fine for improperly soliciting World Series tickets from the Yankees.

The Missouri filings show that no one purchased more tickets than Ameren, which has been lobbying the state legislature to build a second nuclear plant. The utility spent about $7,700 on tickets and ballpark food.

AT&T provided about $3,000 worth of tickets to officials who watched from the company's box.

"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. Among the issues he cited was AT&T's bid to purchase rival T-Mobile.

State lawmakers weren't the only ones who accepted free playoff passes. St. Louis aldermen Sam Moore and Marlene Davis accepted World Series tickets. St. Louis County Council members Michael O'Mara and Pat Dolan accepted free tickets to the National League Championship Series against Milwaukee.

The free tickets brought in lawmakers from more distant locations, too, including state Rep. Darrell Pollock, R-Lebanon, head of the House Utilities Committee. He watched Game 6 of the World Series from the AT&T box.

"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."


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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