Some individuals and organizations form associations and contract with lobbying firms to advocate for their group with state and federal elected officials. The lobbyist for those groups represent a myriad of different causes from business to union workers. These hired guns often attempt to influence lawmakers votes and decisions with tinker toys, balloons and cotton candy. Actually it’s more like Thunder tickets, fancy dinners, and gifts. According to the latest information from the Oklahoma Ethics commission registered lobbyists spent over $12,000 between July and December on state legislators and the Oklahoma legislature wasn’t even in session.
According to the Oklahoma State Ethics Commission, there were 331 registered lobbyists in Oklahoma in 2011. Nearly 25% of the registered lobbyists (79) represented 54 state funded entities. That’s right- Oklahoma taxpayers/citizens are paying lobbyists to convince the state legislature to give state agencies more taxpayer money.
First, all ‘lobbying’ is not bad. Every citizen should be their own lobbyist on issues they are passionate about. Lobbyists for private sector associations represent people who often can not come to the Capitol in person and lobby their legislator on an issue. Those lobbyists have a place in the political process. They supply valuable information to lawmakers on issues. It’s when paid lobbyists begin to utilize gifts and campaign donation to gain access to a lawmaker that they cross the line. It is when legislators begin to listen to lobbyists more than their constituents because of the gift/relationship/friendship when it gets off the rails.
Second, state lawmakers should recognize there is no such thing as a free lunch. That term “free lunch” relates back to the once-common tradition of saloons and bars in the United States providing a “free lunch” to patrons who had purchased at least one drink. All the foods they offered were high in salt (e.g. ham, cheese and salted crackers) so those who ate them ended up buying a lot of beer, which they had marked up to pay for the ‘free lunch.’ When a lobbyist buys a ticket, a drink, a meal or leaves a box of chocolates with an elected official, they are expecting a ‘return on their investment.’ They have to pay for lunch in some manner. Any lobbyist or legislator who denies there are no strings to a lobbyist’s gifts is either lying or naïve. The lobbyist may only expect access to the legislator, but they expect something and at some point they have to collect.
Third, taxpayer funded lobbyists should be banned in Oklahoma. For a state agency or university to spend Oklahoma taxpayer dollars to lobby for more of our money is ridiculous. Most Oklahoma state agencies have on staff a ‘legislative liaison’ whose primary job is to advocate on behalf of the agency with the state legislators. That may include lobbying for more money or it may be to work with lawmakers on bills that might improve the efficiency of the agency. These ‘liaisons’ are not required to register as a lobbyist with the Ethics Commission. But in addition to their liaisons, several Oklahoma state agencies hire contract lobbyists with taxpayer dollars to get more taxpayer dollars out of the legislature.
Senator Sykes plans to offer another proposal to ban taxpayer funded lobbyists at the State Capitol. It is past time for other lawmakers to recognize that allowing state government to lobby itself for more money is not a good spend of taxpayer dollars.