Best barometer of the St. Louis Blues’ success? Gifts from political lobbyists

Harrison Mooney

The St. Louis Blues play in an interesting state. While many states prohibit politicians accepting gifts from lobbyists -- in December 2010, New York governor David Paterson was fined $62,125 for accepting free World Series tickets, for instance -- it's an accepted and flourishing practice in Missouri.

According to Jake Wagman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "In Missouri, the way it works is that you're allowed unlimited gifts from lobbyists to public officials. However, the lobbyists have to disclose the value and the nature of that gift, and they have to do that in a monthly report."

In a recent blog post titled, Surest signs Blues are back? Missouri lawmakers, kin, got free tickets, Wagman observed that the December 2011 report featured a surprising amount of St. Louis Blues tickets.

It makes sense, really. According to Wagman, "In many ways, a hockey game is the perfect sporting event if you're hoping to chat up a lawmaker." Hockey is, of course, the only major sport that features two intermissions, meaning the entertainment comes with plenty of built-in facetime (unless the politicians are really into intermission tricycle races).

"The lobbyists want to provide something that will be entertaining to lawmakers -- that's why there are more Blues tickets this year and less free passes, I suspect, to see the feckless Rams," Wagman said. It's a good point. Under Ken Hitchcock, the Blues are playing some fantastic hockey right now. Who wouldn't want to go see them?

I was curious to see if Wagman's observation held up over a larger scale, so I called the Missouri Ethics Commission and tracked down their lobbyists' reports dating all the way back to 2007. Sure enough, the hockey expenditures rise and fall drastically with the success of the Blues.

Coming out of the lockout, the Blues posted the worst record in the NHL, and they didn't make the playoffs until the 2008-09 season. Understandably, then, they weren't much of a draw until then, and the reports reflect this.

Total hockey expenditures during the 07-08 season: $1510.

Curiously, most of this came from one lobbyist. Craig Felzien at AT&T Missouri spent $1200 plying lawmakers with Blues tickets.

AT&T is all over these reports, by the way. They've spent $5122 sending politicians to Blues games since 2007, 38% of the total hockey expenditures over that period. No wonder they featured the team on the cover of the greater St. Louis Yellow Pages back in November -- AT&T loves the Blues.

Total hockey expenditures during the 08-09 season: $1475.

Coming out of another season without playoff hockey, the 2008-09 numbers were very similar to the year before.

But here's where things get interesting. The Blues made the playoffs at the end of the 08-09 season, and while they were swept in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks, interest and expectations surrounding the team were much, much higher heading into next year.

It's impossible to miss on the spreadsheets.

Total hockey expenditures during the 09-10 season: $5370.

Just under half of this 264% increase in annual lobbyist spending -- $2360, to be exact -- comes from the months of October and November. With many expecting the Blues to take a step forward, lobbyists sent several politicians to what they assumed would be a very good team.

But the Blues faltered, struggling with injuries and inconsistent play for much of the year. When the season ended, they failed once again to make the playoffs.

Needless to say, it was a massive disappointment, and clearly, it was enough of a bummer to dissuade most lobbyists from using the Blues to ply lawmakers in the following year.

Total hockey expenditures during the 10-11 season

: $842.

That is a striking decline, and it's even more striking once you realize $92 from this total are actually AT&T Inc,. & Affiliates treating newly elected Missouri House of Representatives member Brent Lasater, Republican, to see the CHL's Missouri Mavericks.

(If you're wondering why Lasater prefers junior hockey, consider that he only spent $500 on his campaign and correctly predicted he would win the election by only 1000 votes. He may be the most moderate man on earth.)

But, as Wagman has observed, the Blues are back this season. Obviously, we're only halfway through the 2011-12 season, but the report for the first three months of the year really underscores his point.

Total hockey expenditures during the 11-12 season (through December): $4186.

It would appear that Brian Elliott isn't the only one having a stunning bounceback year in St. Louis -- so are the lobbyists.

Incredibly, only $496 of this total comes prior to the firing of Davis Payne. From November 8th to the end of the year, Ken Hitchcock's Blues led lobbyists to drop $3690 on games, a whopping $2420 of which came in December, just after the Blues had posted an 8-1-2 record under Hitchcock and finished November a point out of 1st place in the Central Division.

This is an interesting aside I hadn't considered. Everybody knows that a winning team attracts more fans, but here we have evidence that a winning team also attracts more lobbyists, and thereby, more politicians.

As a closing aside, I'd like to point out that local lawmakers passing a law that they're allowed to receive gifts is some serious irony. That's like children advocating for a second Christmas.

Follow Harrison Mooney on Twitter at @HarrisonMooney