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Caught On Tape: State House Scoundrels

A Puerto Rico legislator gets too close for comfort with a student journalist. Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- An ABC News investigation has found that lobbyists for corporate interests are increasingly turning to state legislatures for lucrative contracts and favorable regulations -- a dynamic that has bred a string of unsavory political scandals in state capitals around the nation.  At least 80 state legislators have been indicted or convicted in the last five years.

The state house remains an often-overlooked arm of American government, even as state legislators exercise control over more than a trillion dollars in taxes and spending, and enact laws that affect everyone.  As a project to study an important institution that receives little scrutiny from the national media, five graduate school journalists selected as Carnegie Fellows, working with the ABC News investigative unit, examined the ethics and behavior of state legislators, and found conduct that could be best described as unbecoming.

At a national convention of state legislators in Louisville, Kentucky over the summer, more than 1,300 politicians and staffers fanned out across Louisville to a series of corporate and lobbyist-sponsored dinners and parties, including a lavish reception at the world-famous horse racing venue Churchill Downs sponsored by Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo and Sprint, among others, and a massive waterfront concert.  Lawmakers devoured prime rib and tenderloin, and consumed bourbon by the barrel.

One legislator from Puerto Rico took advantage of the festive environment by making unwanted advances on a female student journalist, groping and kissing her –- all as the cameras rolled. In a statement to ABC News, Rep. Jorge Navarro Suarez denied any misconduct, and said he only got close to the student to understand what she was saying, since the music was loud and he doesn't speak English well.

Another lawmaker threatened a student journalist with a raised golf club when cameras caught the legislator skipping a good government seminar at the conference in favor of a private golf outing with a lobbyist.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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