Monday, January 28, 2008

Reining in Free "Unadulterated Entertainment" for Legislators!

There is some very good news to report about the effort to level the
playing field between the paid special interests groups and the

During the first six months of 2007, paid lobbyists reported giving
legislators $137,000 in personal gifts, such as expensive dinners or
sporting events tickets. This spending power basically bought access
to the legislators on behalf of the spenders. This is the type of
access that the average person (whom the legislators are supposed to
be representing) simply cannot compete with.

I feel that the special interests' influence problem has in large part
been created by the massive size of government. Because state
government has become so engorged with billions of our tax dollars,
and because there are so many different government regulations and
laws, a cottage industry has sprung up that is populated by those who
seek to benefit their specific field of interest. Because there are
millions of dollars at stake, these special interests will see an
investment in personal gifts or political contributions to lawmakers
as being a small price to pay, compared to the possible benefits.

When I sought election to be State Representative, I felt so strongly
about the impropriety of legislators taking gifts from lobbyists, that
I made a pledge that I would not accepts these gifts. I believe that
it is just as inappropriate for a lawmaker to take a gift from a
lobbyist as it would be for a judge to take a gift from an attorney.
It should not be seen as any different for a lobbyist to give a gift
to a lawmaker who is casting a vote on an issue that might benefit the
lobbyist's' client, than for an attorney to give a gift to a judge
whose rendered judgment will benefit the attorney's client.

Here is the good news: on Friday, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission took
action to limit the amount of lobbyists' gifts to legislators to $100
and under. The rule came about after the courageous advocacy of Ethics
Commissioner John Raley. Raley correctly tagged the gift-giving
practices of lobbyists to lawmakers as "unadulterated entertainment".

Raley's proposal reduced from $300 to $100 the amount spent on
legislators and elected officials by a "lobbyist principal" during a
calendar year. Lobbyist principals are companies or associations that
hire the lobbyists and provide the money to buy gifts for lawmakers.
The proposal also requires lobbyists to disclose gifts after spending
more than $10 on any official during a six-month period.

In addition, it looks as though the Commission will take additional
action in the future. The Chairman of the Commission, Don Bingham,
said he thinks commission members will be ready to move next year to
make Oklahoma the strictest state in the nation when it comes to what
legislators can receive in gifts from lobbyists.

The Commission reforms still face a big hurdle. The Legislature could
take action to stop the proposal from taking effect, and has until May
to try to stop the rule. If the Legislature fails to do so, the law
will take effect in July.

If the Legislature does try to stop this reform, I will vote to defend
the Commission's proposal. I think this is an exciting reform that
starts to restore balance to the legislative process in favor of the

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