Monday, June 14, 2010

Making Progress

A few weeks ago I wrote an update regarding the effort to ask the Oklahoma Ethics Commission to create a "No Gifts List" by which lawmakers who do not wish to receive personal gifts from lobbyists would have an official mechanism for making their intentions known.

When I first entered the Legislature, I did so on a platform that I would not accept personal gifts or political contributions from lobbyists or groups which hire lobbyists and I have since indicated this desire by posting a sign on my office door to make it clear that these gifts should not be left at my office. I have often said that if just a few lawmakers will prove it is possible to hold office without taking from lobbyists then eventually Oklahomans in other districts will start to expect that their elected official will make this same commitment.

At the time of my first election, legislators collectively accepted tens of thousands of dollars of personal gifts. The majority of this gift giving was related to meals and entertainment. Paying for expensive meals has historically been the tool by which lobbyists built friendships with legislators, subsequently ensuring they have a pre-existing relationship with the policy makers who vote on legislation affecting their clients. The thought that the legislators could pick up their own tab has historically been rather alien in form.

Since that time, with the institution of new ethics rules, the amount of gift giving has dropped to just a fraction of what it used to be. Not only that, but a number of lawmakers are now willing to come forward and assert their desire to avoid receiving these gifts.

When I wrote the letter to the Ethics Commission I asked several of my colleagues if they would be willing to sign the letter along with me. I was very excited when six of these individuals expressed their willingness to sign the letter and support the "No Gifts List" proposal.

They were State Senators Bill Brown, Anthony Sykes and Randy Brogdon and State Representatives Charles Key, Mike Reynolds and Mike Ritze. In my view, signing the letter represented a very courageous effort by these individuals.

In addition Senators Anthony Sykes and Jim Halligan and Representative Mike Reynolds have also posted signs in their offices politely stating that they do not wish to receive lobbyist gifts.

In other words, the belief that it is inappropriate for legislators to receive personal gifts from the vested special interest is slowly becoming institutionalized. I believe we will see the day when legislators no longer live the high life on the lobbyist dime. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my colleagues who are pioneering this line of thought and in so doing are establishing a stronger ethical standard which I believe will be followed by Oklahoma's policy makers in the future.

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