Picking up the tab

Published 7:48 pm Monday, September 2, 2013

When it comes to entertainment, Virginia delegates Chris Jones and Rick Morris tend to pick up their own checks.

Jones and Morris each allowed lobbyists to pick up the tab for entertainment only once during the legislative year. Other lawmakers representing Suffolk were much more likely to be found hobnobbing at parties and events hosted and paid for by organizations that were seeking their legislative support.

At the other end of the spectrum, John Cosgrove, who was elected to fill the retired Harry Blevins’ Senate seat in August, was one of only two legislators mentioned in 14 entertainment reports filed for the period, thereby topping the legislative field in accepting food and entertainment from lobbyists.

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Cosgrove was serving as a delegate from Chesapeake during the May 2012 to April 2013 period covered by the report, which recently was published online by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Cosgrove racked up 10 dinners, plus another disclosure described as “food” at Richmond restaurant La Grotta.

Cosgrove was a dinner guest of Verizon, the Virginia Association of Broadcasters, Appalachian Power, Capital One, the Old Dominion Highway Contractors Association, Micron Technology Inc. and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

He also dined on the Chamber’s tab at the Governor’s Conference on Energy and was transported, fed and lodged for the Virginia Auto Dealers Association annual conference at Florida’s Amelia Island’s Ritz-Carlton.

The Virginia Maritime Association hosted Jones’s single lobbyist-paid dinner on Jan. 29.

The event was held at the Commonwealth Club in Richmond.

Jones said he works long hours when in session, and he concentrates on his pharmacy business and family when home in the 76th district.

“I might do a dinner or two a year, if that,” he said. “It’s just something I don’t typically do. I really don’t have time to do dinners.”

In the General Assembly’s last session, Jones was the chief patron of legislation that will prevent future unsolicited port proposals under Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act.

The host of his single dinner was a major opponent of a recent unsuccessful push under the act to privatize operation of the Port of Virginia.

Jones said the dinner was “one put on for the regional delegation,” and “one that I typically go to,” though he added, “I don’t make it every year.”

Airfare for an April economic development trip, attended by a dozen lawmakers, was the only other reported disclosure in the period involving Jones.

Morris, representing Virginia’s 64th district, attended a dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Virginia Beach, hosted by Verizon.

Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr. attended five dinners, variously hosted by Albers & Co., the Virginia Maritime Association, the Virginia Biotechnology Association, Appalachian Power, and, at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, cigarette company Altria.

Delegate Matthew James also attended a dinner the cigarette maker hosted at Ruth’s — the day before the one Spruill attended — as well as others variously hosted by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Maritime Association, Verizon and two by Dominion Virginia Power.

Dinner was also listed among expenses at a reception James attended at the Library of Virginia, where AAA Mid-Atlantic picked up the tab.

Meanwhile, Dominion also paid for James to attend the Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club, as well as a Washington Redskins game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

Senator Louise Lucas attended two dinners, one hosted by Dominion and the other by the Virginia Public Safety Alliance.

The annual reporting by lobbyists of their wining, dining and general gift-giving comes as Virginia politics endures close scrutiny in the wake of revelations about gifts received but not disclosed by the governor and members of his immediate family.

VPAP, citing the Secretary of the Commonwealth — its source for the disclosures — says three out of four clients of registered lobbyists reported no entertainment expenses.

Attempts to reach Morris, Cosgrove, Spruill, James and Lucas at their respective district offices were unsuccessful.