Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Politics is local. And lucrative.

With all due respect, the National Restaurant Association has it wrong. The association breaks down its 2006 sales forecast by state, region and industry segment. It really should do it by politician.

A few weeks ago, in The Marketplace thread of our blog, we reported how former U.S. Rep. Duke Cunningham had allowed favor-seekers to pick up $10,000 in restaurant and lodging charges before he was caught taking bribes. Now he’s heading to jail, depriving the industry of a prime customer.

But the California Republican looks like a value-menu maniac compared with Party god Tom Delay. Documents reviewed by the Associate Press show that the former House Majority Leader ate in restaurants at lobbyists’ expense some 500 times during the last six years, with an average ticket often topping $200, according to the wire service. That’s one freebie at least every five days, on average.

For the record, there was apparently nothing illegal about the free-loading; it’s as common in politics as kissing babies or cutting ribbons. Indeed, the AP cited similar indulgences by plenty of Delay’s competitors from the other side of the aisle, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, and Senate Minority Leader Henry Reid of Las Vegas. Second only to Delay in his enthusiasm for resort and restaurant-meal giveaways, according to today’s widely carried AP story, was Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

The story noted Delay’s particular fondness for the Morton’s of Chicago steakhouse chain, and the famed “21” Club in New York.

The NRA has long encouraged restaurateurs to invite their elected officials into their dining rooms as a way of exposing lawmakers to the realities of the business. Turns out they may not have to bother.

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