Interest groups shower gifts on N.D. lawmakersFreshman state Sen. Mac Schneider found few surprises in his first day on the job — except for the assortment of gifts heaped on his desk on the Senate floor. “It was interesting. I didn’t expect that,” the Grand Forks Democrat said Tuesday, the opening day of the 2009 Legislature. “I thought I was going to come in here with a blank desk, but it was piled high.”
By: By Dave Kolpack, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Freshman state Sen. Mac Schneider found few surprises in his first day on the job — except for the assortment of gifts heaped on his desk on the Senate floor.
“It was interesting. I didn’t expect that,” the Grand Forks Democrat said Tuesday, the opening day of the 2009 Legislature. “I thought I was going to come in here with a blank desk, but it was piled high.”
The opening-day swag from lobbyists included a small, wood-framed clock courtesy of the AARP, a coffee mug loaded with trinkets from the Utility Shareholders of North Dakota, and an organizer and notepad donated by the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association.
It’s only a sampling of things to come, said Rep. Duane DeKrey, R-Pettibone, who first served in the Senate in the early 1990s. He was elected to the House in 1994.
“I think I have a nine-mug set from the Utility Shareholders,” DeKrey said.
During his first Senate session in 1991, a veteran Fargo lawmaker brought out a shoe box from under his desk loaded with pins, mugs and other trinkets, DeKrey said.
“He had saved everything,” DeKrey said. “What amazes me is that it’s 17 years later and I don’t have a shoe box — but I have all the same stuff he had.”
Bob Graveline, president of the Utility Shareholders, said his group is trying to gain recognition by giving out the trinkets.
“Our association has not been around very long and we want to raise our profile,” Graveline said. “We’re trying to gain an identity with the legislators.”
The mugs full of goodies cost about $5 each, with the most expensive item a $1.80 tube of hand sanitizer, Graveline said.
Peg Puetz, deputy sergeant at arms in the House, said a legislator is required to sign off on the freebies before they can be delivered. She said the handouts sometimes annoy lawmakers, especially if they coincide with important votes.
“There are some legislators who will come up and ask where something came from, especially near the end of the session,” Puetz said. “When (interest groups) do bring these things, they are not to just walk in.”
One of the most popular gifts was a throw blanket from the National Association of Counties, Puetz said. Other favorites were North Dakota Farmers Union coffee mugs, customized with each lawmaker’s name, said Rep. Scot Kelsh, D-Fargo.
Kelsh said he doesn’t make use of many gifts.
“Some of the pens are pretty nice, but by and large, it’s collecting dust in a box somewhere,” Kelsh said. “I don’t know where half of it is.”
Kelsh laughed when asked if the handouts could influence his vote, but said the logos may serve a purpose by keeping an organization or a cause in someone’s mind.
“Maybe for a newer person, they may think they have some influence,” Kelsh said.
One newcomer wasn’t immediately impressed.
“Probably the most useful one is the hand sanitizer. It’s important to stay healthy,” Schneider said. “But the first thing I did was clean those (gifts) off so I could get to work.”