Monday, December 1, 2008

Putting A Stop To Inappropriate Lobbyist Giving

One of the issues about which I have felt the most strongly has been the inappropriate nature of special interest influence over policy makers. One of the foremost manifestations of the inappropriate influence has been the ability of these special interests to give personal gifts to legislators.

I do not believe it is any more appropriate for a lobbyist to give a gift to a legislator than it would be for an attorney to give a gift to a judge who was ruling on a case in which the attorney was a party. In both cases the gift giver receives a direct benefit from the decision of the recipient.

As such when I sought election to the legislature I did so on a platform of not taking personal gifts or contributions from lobbyists or the groups that hire lobbyists.

When I first entered the legislature just two years ago this inappropriate giving was nearing an all time high point. In 2007, over $150,000 of personal gift giving was reported by lobbyists. This number was probably just a percent of the total gift giving as a significant amount of gift giving probably did not meet reporting requirements.

Following the 2007 session, I proposed that if gift giving is going to continue to be allowed at the very least there should be a "No Gift List" on which legislators could opt in in order to demonstrate to the people that they did not want to be a part of the status-quo. I also figured this proposal would allow the people to hold their legislators responsible when it is time for re-election.

I believe there are a significant number of legislators who do not support the gift giving policy who will opt in to the "No Gift List" if they are given the opportunity.

Also, following the 2007 session the Ethics Commission took the fantastic step of proposing to place a cap of $100 dollars on the amount of a gift that a lobbyist can give to a legislator. This proposal could have been disapproved by the legislature. However, in a move that is a credit to the leadership and membership of both the House and Senate there was no effort in the legislature to stop this proposal.

As a result this new limit is now taking effect and I believe it will substantially cut down the amount of gift giving that will occur in the upcoming session. Progress has already been made, as in 2008, lobbyists' gift giving dropped to just over $80,000.

Now the Ethics Commission is meeting again to hopefully take another step forward in stopping this inappropriate practice. I believe the Commission will vote for a proposal that will either ban gift giving or possibly create the "No Gift List" that will allow the people to better hold their legislators accountable.

All of this progress would not have been possible without the work of some people who are taking the idea of accountability in government very seriously. One of them is Ethics Commissioner John Raley. Raley has been the driving force in asking his commission to consider these reforms.

Another is Guthrie resident and Rose State political science professor John Wood. Professor Wood has diligently worked to bring innovative reform proposals before the Commission which has certainly helped to frame the debate on this issue. It is a real honor to have a local Guthrie resident making such a big difference for government reform.

However, this progress will not come without opposition. The state Chamber of Commerce appears to be launching a campaign to prevent the ban and it seems that legislation will be introduced to roll back the new limit.

I will be sure to keep you updated about the progression of this important reform.

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