Monday, February 25, 2008

Saying "NO" To Lobbyist Gift Giving

Recently, a bill I authored, HB 2444, was approved by the House Rules Subcommittee on Elections and Redistricting. HB 2444 would ask the state Ethics Commission to create and maintain a voluntary "No Gifts List." Under the bill, lobbyists would be prevented from giving gifts to lawmakers who voluntarily place themselves on the list.

When I asked for your vote to be your State Representative, I did so because I wanted to spend time in the Legislature working for the people, not taking lobbyists gifts and certainly not going through the hassle of returning unsolicted items.

Refusing gifts has proven harder than I expected, as lobbyists kept delivering unrequested items to my office. This became a logistical challenge, since some were left with office staff or even sent in the mail. Other lawmakers have told me of similar frustrations, as they did not want to receive gifts either, and yet items are left at their offices.

Thus, the need for House Bill 2444. By creating this "No Gifts List," not only will the time and money involved in returning gifts be saved, but I believe the list will
put pressure on legislators who do not want to refuse gifts. I believe constituents will demand their lawmakers place themselves on the list. This could be a fantastic tool for minimizing the influence of special interest without having to create a complicated new law.

Several other officials have gone out of their way to make it possible for this bill to have a chance at winning approval. Representative Trebor Worthen, who chairs the committee that approved the bill, courageously agreed to hear and support the bill. Without Worthen's support, the bill would have had little chance of success. In addition, Senator Anthony Sykes is one of the leading advocates of minimizing the influence of special interests over legislative policy. Sykes has agreed to sponsor the bill in the Senate.

And, at the request of Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland, I plan to amend House Bill 2444 to allow statewide officeholders to be placed on the "No Gifts List."

"Even a small token of appreciation can be misconstrued, so this legislation gives us the opportunity to avoid misunderstandings." Holland said. "We need to continually affirm to our public that the work of the Insurance Department is impartial and that our regulatory duties are carried out in a manner that is above reproach. The 'No Gifts List' is simply one more way to demonstrate that commitment." Holland implemented a department-wide "Things of Value" policy upon assuming office, prohibiting the receipt of gifts or meals from anyone regulated by the Insurance Department. She said the "No Gifts List" would complement the agency's internal efforts.

Holland's predecessor in office, Carroll Fisher, was impeached by the Oklahoma House of Representatives, due in part to soliciting and accepting gifts of art work, furniture and kitchen equipment.

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