Lobbyist gifts for Wyoming legislators limited at $250

By Gregory Nickerson
— February 11, 2014   
The Wyoming Contractors Association gave plush blankets to every Wyoming lawmaker on the second day of the 2014 Wyoming budget session. (WyoFile/Gregory Nickerson — click to enlarge)

On the second day of the session, brown bundles tied in string arrived on the desks of each of Wyoming’s 90 lawmakers. The bundles were commemorative blankets embroidered with the seal of the Wyoming Contractors Association, which lobbies for the interests of more than 225 construction companies and suppliers around the state.

Such gifts from lobbyists occasionally show up in the House and Senate chambers, but are perhaps less a part of Cheyenne culture than receptions where interest groups ply lawmakers with food and drink. It’s all a routine part of legislative culture, where one strategy for getting favorable votes on an issue involves building relationships with lawmakers.

Wyoming has ethics rules that dictate how such gifts may be given, and what they may consist of. The list of permitted gifts is outlined in Wyoming Statutes 9-13-102 and 9-12-103. It includes:

  • A certificate, commemorative token or item, or plaque with a value that does not exceed two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00)
  • Food and beverage
  • Any loan, gift, gratuity, special discount or hospitality with a value of two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00) or less

In other words, anyone can give a lawmaker a gift, or a free room to stay, or perhaps a fly-fishing trip, so long as it’s less than $250 in value. The statute places no dollar limit on gifts in the form of food or drink.

Wyoming’s law on gift ethics fits somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between states like New York, which prohibits any gifts of value that could be inferred as an attempt to influence a public official, to South Dakota, which has no restrictions on gifts whatsoever. For a full list of ethics laws, see the National Council of State Legislatures website.

On an informal level, at least some lawmakers in Cheyenne self-police their integrity with this rule: “If you can’t eat their food, drink their whiskey, and then vote against them the next day, you’re in the wrong legislature.” Now that’s cowboy ethics.

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Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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