Monday, March 24, 2008

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

One hot button issue this year is the need for ethics reform in
Oklahoma government. This issue is addressed in House Bill 2196.

This is a legitimate need because lobbyists and special interests
appear to be spending millions of dollars to buy personal gifts and
make political contributions to politicians in each election cycle.

The desire of the special interest groups to "invest" in politicians
has only increased over the years as government has gotten bigger and
bigger, enabling politicians to use the power of the government to
either benefit or hurt industries that hire lobbyists.

This is something I feel so strongly about that I have put in place a
policy to not accept gifts or contributions from lobbyists or groups
that employ them.

The author of House Bill 2196 has established a noble goal and I
believe his intent is just as noble. HB 2196 purports to place a ban
on any political giving during the legislative session. The logic
follows that a politician should not be receiving donations at the
same time he or she is voting on important laws.

However, this law would also apply to the challenger of that
incumbent. What this means is that HB 2196 would create an incumbent
protection scheme so strong, it would be almost impossible for an
incumbent to be defeated in the primary election process.

Many of Oklahoma's legislative districts, including the one I
represent, are heavily tilted in favor of one party. This means that
the winner of the July primary is almost certain to win in the
November general election. Because HB 2196 places a blackout on the
ability of the challenger to raise money from January through June
(the legislative session), a challenger who decided to run for office
after the blackout started would not be able to raise money from
friends, family and supporters until just days away from the primary
election. Meanwhile, most legislative incumbents would have built a
sizeable lobbyist-funded war chest over the months preceding the
legislative session and would have no problem using this funding to
attack the challenger while the challenger stood by helplessly, unable
to fund his/her campaign. The challenger could not even raise money to
fund the mandatory filing for office fee required in early June.

Because this bill contains an emergency clause, it could take effect
this very year. I believe it is very inappropriate for legislators in
the name of "ethics reform" to put in place a huge barrier to those
who would seek to remove them from office.

I think a better idea would be to simply prohibit lobbyists and the
groups that employ them from being able to give during the legislative
session. This common sense law, proposed a few years ago by Rep. John
Trebilcock, would help restore the balance of power in favor of the

There is another solution that would not require the enactment of any
law. If the constituents of each legislative district would insist
that their legislators put in place a policy to refuse gifts or
contributions from lobbyists or groups that employ them, I think that
as more and more legislators made that commitment, the pressure would
mount on all legislators to do the same.

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