State Rep. Mike Reynolds is blasting officials at the state Ethics Commission for offering proposed changes to lobbyist reporting and registration, conflict of interest and financial disclosure rules during a monthly meeting at the state Capitol on Monday.
Reynolds said commissioners offered the rules under the guise of streamlining and cleaning up the reporting system, but the changes, he says, will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.
“These proposed rule changes have the potential of increasing lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers by hundreds of thousands of dollars each year,” said Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. “Instead of limiting influence on lawmakers, the Ethics Commission seems to be declaring open season for lobbyists on elected officials.”
Under current law, lobbyists’ employers are prohibited from spending more than $100 per calendar year per lawmaker. However, under proposed rule changes, lobbyists’ employers would be permitted to provide $500 for meals and other gifts. In addition to this increase, lobbyists could also purchase a meal once a year for every legislator with no limit on the cost, another meal once a year for every member of the Republican or Democrat caucus and additional meals to lawmakers with no cost limit for every committee of which that the legislator is a member.
“Considering that many meals currently provided to legislators cost in excess of $100, these new rules will undoubtedly lead to tens of thousands of dollars used to influence votes by lobbyist at the Oklahoma legislature,” said Reynolds. “In addition, another proposed rule change would allow any institute of higher learning to provide two free tickets to lawmakers to any athletic event, conference, seminar or lecture involving students that is held within Oklahoma.
“Under this rule, the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University can give two tickets to each home game to every lawmaker. For Bedlam, every lawmaker could receive four tickets. Twelve tickets per year to each home OU and OSU football, basketball, baseball, softball, etc., etc., etc. game. This is insanity, and it will cost taxpayers millions of dollars in direct cost, not to mention the undue influence these meals and tickets are going to have on elected officials.”
To display just how out of touch the Oklahoma Ethics Commission is, said Reynolds, they even proposed a rule change that would prevent the Commission from investigating allegations during the final days of an election campaign – a rule change that was already overwhelmingly defeated on the floor of the House during the last session of the Legislature.
“The single most important time to investigate is in the final days of a campaign,” said Reynolds. “Candidates that are conducting themselves properly want an investigation to clear themselves and candidates that are operating improperly need to be exposed before the elections, not after. Otherwise there is absolutely no purpose in having an Ethics Commission.”
Reynolds said he plans on introducing a resolution during the upcoming legislative session to disapprove the proposed rules.