Monday, March 1, 2010

A Common Sense Answer to Lobbyist Gift Giving

As candidate for State Representative, it was my pledge to the citizens of House District 31 to not accept personal gifts from lobbyists. At that time I had no idea how challenging it would be to enforce this pledge. In the past, these gifts have been mailed to my home, left at the office, or placed on the desk of my legislative assistant even when she was not in the office. These actions force me or my staff to spend resources and time tracking down the lobbyists and returning the gifts. In addition, sometimes lobbyists would enter reports of across-the-board gift giving, such as dinner for an entire committee or lunch for the whole Republican caucus which included my name, even though I wasn't even present to accept the gift.

As a way of helping legislators avoid going to these lengths to return gifts, I believe an online no gift list would draw a clear line in the sand by which legislators and lobbyists could establish a firm relationship based on professionalism. I also believe it would start putting an end to the perception that all legislators and lobbyists engage in an inappropriate game of quid-pro-quo.

In the past I have sought to establish this list through a legislative initiative. Even though the idea was approved by two House committees, it was not given a hearing on the floor of the House. I suspect it will be very difficult to receive legislative approval. However, the list could be established by a simple vote of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission to provide an official no gift list on its web site where Oklahoma legislators could request to be placed.

In speaking to other lawmakers, I am convinced that a number of them would avail themselves of this service. Several legislators do not enjoy their names being listed in the paper for receiving gifts they did not desire in the first place. I also believe there are a number of lobbyists who would be supportive of this feature. In my view there are a number of lobbyists who do not appreciate the public perception that all lobbyists advance their position based on the size of their expense account, rather than the merits of the position.

It is my opinion that any minuscule investment required to maintain this feature on the existing Ethics Commission web site would be offset by a corresponding decrease in expenses related to processing lobbyists' reports. In a down budget year, this idea would present the Ethics Commission with the opportunity to save taxpayer funds.

It is my intent in the upcoming days to formally request that the Ethics Commission consider this option as a valuable tool for saving taxpayer dollars and restoring some trust in the legislative process.

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