Monday, March 16, 2009

THIS EDITORIAL WAS WRITTEN FOUR YEARS AGO- WHEN IT RAN, A PROMINENT LOBBYIST ACCUSED ME OF BEING THE CROOK BECAUSE I "EXPECTED" SOMETHING FROM MY GIFTS TO POTENTIAL BUYERS, HE MAINTAINED PRINCIPLED LOBBYISTS DIDN'T EXPECT ANYTHING FROM LUNCH OR TICKETS OR TRINKETS! RIGHT! WITH THE ONSLAUGHT OF LOBBYING AND THE TWO BILLS BEING CONSIDERED IN THE 2009 SESSION, THIS ARTICLE IS WORTH A REPEAT PERFORMANCE!
Opinion/Editorial
There’s no such thing as a FREE LUNCH!
by Steve Fair

I have called on Wal-Mart’s home office for over 20 years. When you make a sales call at the Bentonville, Arkansas facility, the meeting is conducted in a small room with only a table and chairs. This is different than most companies because most of the time business is conducted in the buyer’s office, but not at Big Blue. You never see the buyer’s office. To add even more intrigue, during the meeting, staring ominously at you is a video camera mounted above the table. Below the camera is a sign stating that Wal-Mart personnel are prohibited from receiving anything of value from the vendor. That includes something as insignificant as a lunch. If a Wal-Mart associate goes to lunch with a vendor, they have to buy their own lunch. Wal-mart is the largest retailer in the world- the largest company in the world. Sam Walton instilled into his buying staff- the people who purchase product- they could not be brought at any price. I wish the same could be said for the Oklahoma legislature.

Oklahoma has the highest paid part time legislature in America. They earn $38,500 annually and are in session 66 days per year. Their salary is almost twice the per capita average in Oklahoma. But that doesn’t seem to be enough for our state legislators.

In Sunday’s edition of The Oklahoman an article outlined the amount of “reported” gifts lobbyists gave to various state legislators. The total amount of the public and private payola was $125,000- all spent to influence legislators. It also included what the two largest state universities -OU and OSU- gave the state lawmakers. OU gave $33,579 worth of season football tickets to 117 officials. OSU gave $17,425 of football tickets. Where did OU and OSU get the money to give away? From the taxpayers. I have a problem with my tax dollars being used to lobby the legislature for more tax dollars. Talk about a self-serving system. Most state agencies hire professional lobbyists to present their case to legislators. That should be prohibited. Tax dollars should not be spent on lobbying.

The rules say that a lobbyist cannot spend more than $300 a year on a state employee or elected official. That also applies to their immediate family. A lobbyist must report any expense over $50 in a six-month period. The limit applies to a company or association that hires multiple lobbyists.

Lobbying is an industry that sells influence. Industries, businesses, individuals hire lobbyists to “sell” their views to legislators. They have a right to hire someone to do that, but for a legislator to be so na├»ve as to think those gifts have no strings is disingenuous. It would be more honest if a legislator would hold an auction every Friday for their vote instead of selling it for tinker tools or bowl of porridge.

I spent the 1980s with Carnation Company. The Carnation Restaurant was the largest concession in Disneyland. Because of that connection, the sales force had Disneyland tickets available for buyers. We also had tickets to every sporting event in the country. We had tickets to concerts and a multitude of premiums and incentives to influence a buyer’s decision. Thankfully, that has changed in our industry in a large part due to Wal-mart’s policy. When we did have those tickets and trinkets- NEVER did we think we were not going to get something from giving it to the buyer. NEVER! It was always an investment and we expected a return.

Your parents or grandparents may give you gifts without any strings attached, but rest assured, no successful lobbyist, whose business it is to influence legislation is going to give you tickets, buy you lunch, or fly you to Vegas without expecting something in return. That’s the way of the world.

The list was long of legislators who took gifts. They were from both sides of the aisle. In fact, the legislator accepting the most was a Republican- State Representative Ron Peterson from Broken Arrow. He got gifts that total more than $3,700.

The lawmaker accepting the least amount was Cousin Mike Fair, a former State Senator. He got an $8.22 lunch. His advise to the newly elected legislators is worth repeating It’s a bad habit to get into it. It makes it easier and easier for a lawmaker to expect and desire something from these people…. And while they’re not sinister people, they do want the law to fall their way. Cousin Mike knows there’s no such thing as a FREE LUNCH.

No comments: