A Kentucky state senator has introduced a bill that would make the state a “no cup of coffee” state, reducing lobbyists’ annual allowable expenditure level per state official from $100 to zero.

Democratic state Sen. Kathy W. Stein, whose district includes parts of Fayette County and the city of Lexington, introduced the ethics law to reinforce curbs on the potentially corrupting gifts that lobbyists are allowed to offer state representatives. The law would also prohibit registered lobbyists from making campaign contributions to their employers or PACs during a legislative session.

“We get plenty of chances to eat and drink on the dime of these folks,” said Stein on January 5 to WFPL, a local radio station in Lexington. 

Should the bill pass, Kentucky would join Massachusetts, Wisconsin and South Carolina, which have similar “no cup of coffee” laws in place. Wisconsin’s law, passed in 1950, is the toughest of its type. It states that no legislator can be provided any gift unless that gift is also made available to the general public. (That would be many cups of coffee!) Many states have laws in place that restrict the sort of gifts that can be legally offered to lawmakers, but food and beverages are generally considered exceptions.

One of the inspirations for Sen. Stein’s bill was a 2002 case in which Churchill Downs Inc., owner of the racetrack of the same name, made $15,000 in campaign contributions to twenty-five legislators the weekend prior to the start of the legislative session. At the time, the company was pushing for permission to install slot machines at its racetrack. While an independent ethics committee found the firm had broken no law, the committee determined that it had not exercised “good judgment” in its flagrant attempt to influence the legislative process.

As of 2009, 645 companies with 623 lobbyists were actively lobbying the legislature. On average, more than $14 million is spent annually in recent years on lobbying efforts in Kentucky. While there is no word on whether the bill will pass in its present form, Ethics Committee Chairman, Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), told the Lexington-Herald Leader that he was amenable to the basic idea of campaign finance reform and stressed that he had been actively pursuing similar restraints on lobbyists before Sen. Stein entered the legislature in 2009.


Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at nrothman@campaignsandelections.com