Monday, November 25, 2013

Ethics are in the Head before they are in the Hand!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

     The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant said, “In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others.  In ethics, he is guilty if he only thinks of doing so.”
     The Oklahoma Ethics Commission is a five(5) member board of commissioners appointed by various elected officials.  The commissioners serve with no compensation- it’s a volunteer position.  Currently there are three Democrats and two Republicans on the commission.  The Ethics commission was created in 1990 by the passage of a State Question by Oklahoma voters.  The stated purpose of the Ethics Commission is to “promulgate rules of ethical conduct for state officers and employees, campaigns for elective state office and campaigns for state ballot initiatives.”    In other words, they are the political contribution police.  The Ethics Commission requires candidates, political organizations and lobbyists to report who contributes to their cause and how they are spending those contributions.  They provide some transparency into the political process.
     Last week at their regular monthly meeting, the Ethics Commission proposed some changes to how lobbyists register and report.  They proposed increasing the amount a lobbyist can spend on a meal with a state legislator from $100 to $500.  They also proposed that state colleges and universities in Oklahoma be allowed to give legislators two tickets to every sporting event, lecture, or seminar at their school.  That is potentially two tickets to every softball, baseball, football, basketball game from every state institution in Oklahoma for all 149 Oklahoma legislators.  Wow!
      State Representative Mike Reynolds, (R-OKC), says, These proposed rule changes have the potential of increasing lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers by hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Instead of limiting influence on lawmakers, the Ethics Commission seems to be declaring open season for lobbyists on elected officials.” Reynolds plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming 2014 legislative session to disapprove the proposed rule changes by the commission.  Four thoughts:
     First, lobbyists represent people.  I realize that lobbyists have a bad reputation, but understand most lobbyists are people representing groups of people.  Lobbyists are often representing people who are working and can’t personally lobby their elected officials. Not all lobbyists are bad- just like not all jelly salesmen are bad.  Most lobbyists provide valuable information and educate a legislator on an issue.  The key is the legislator must understand that when the lobbyist is presenting their side of the story they are only presenting ONE side.  They must remember that every issue, like a pancake, has two sides. 
     Second, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  When a lobbyist buys a legislator a meal, he ultimately expects to get a return on his investment.  Any state legislator that doesn’t recognize that isn’t smart enough to represent the people of Oklahoma.  No lobbyist can stay in business buying lunch and not delivering the votes to his clients.  When a lobbyist says he doesn’t expect anything from entertaining, he is either naïve or lying. 
     Third, taxpayer funded lobbyists must go away.  Currently large state agencies, colleges and universities in Oklahoma use taxpayers dollars to contract outside lobbyists to convince legislators to give them more of our tax dollars.  Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore) introduced legislation several years ago to eliminate taxpayer funded lobbyists.  The bill never got out of committee.  It is time for the taxpayers of Oklahoma to demand a proposed constitutional amendment (a state question) on the ballot that would eliminate this incestuous practice.
     Fourth, it is good we have an Ethics Commission in Oklahoma.  Some believe the Ethics Commission violates their constitutional rights and they favor a no holds barred free for all in campaign finance.  They favor no reporting or contribution limits, but the public has a right to know where a candidate is getting the money to fund a campaign.  The public has a right to know what clients a lobbying fund represents and how much money the lobbyist spent ‘educating’ legislators.  
     The most disturbing proposed rule change by the commission is one that would stop ethics violation investigations in the last days of a campaign.  As any experienced politico knows, most ethics violations occur in the final reporting periods.  If the commission ceases to investigate those, then they will have become as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.

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