July 29, 2008
OKLAHOMA CITY –
Oklahoma State Representative Jason Murphey is using the occasion of recent disclosures by lobbyists to once again call for the creation of a "No Gifts List" that prevents lobbyists from giving legislators any item of value. A recent disclosure by paid lobbyist indicates that they invested in over $70,000 of gifts to Oklahoma Legislators during the first six months of 2008.
House Bill 2444, filled last year, by Murphey, would require the state Ethics Commission to create and maintain a voluntary "No Gifts List." Under the bill, lobbyists would be prevented from giving items to any lawmakers on the list.
"I want to spend my time in the Legislature working for the people, not accepting lobbyists’ gifts and certainly not going through the hassle of returning unwanted gifts," said Murphey, R-Guthrie.
Since his election in 2006, Murphey has maintained a policy of refusing all gifts from lobbyists. That proved harder than expected when lobbyists kept delivering unrequested gifts to his office.
Murphey returned or refused hundreds of dollars in lobbyist gifts since that time and said returning gifts was a logistical challenge since gifts are frequently left with office staff or even mailed to his home.
Murphey, today sent a personal check to one group who according to disclosure statements appears to have dropped off a $10 item to each Legislator's office. "It has been almost impossible to keep on top of every effort by a lobbyist represented entity which is attempting to provide a gift," Murphey said.
At the request of Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland, a Democrat, Murphey amended House Bill 2444 to allow statewide officeholders to be placed on the "No Gifts List."
Holland implemented a department-wide "Things of Value" policy upon assuming office, prohibiting the receipt of gifts or meals from anyone regulated by the Insurance Department. She said the "No Gifts List" would complement the agency’s internal efforts.
"Even a small token of appreciation can be misconstrued, so this legislation gives us the opportunity to avoid misunderstandings." Holland said. "We need to continually affirm to our public that the work of the Insurance Department is impartial and that our regulatory duties are carried out in a manner that is above reproach. The ‘No Gifts List’ is simply one more way to demonstrate that commitment."
Holland’s predecessor in office, Carroll Fisher, was impeached by the Oklahoma House of Representatives due in part to soliciting and accepting gifts of artwork, furniture and kitchen equipment, valued collectively at more than $30,000, from entities regulated by the Insurance Department.
Although voluntary, Murphey said a "No Gifts List" would put pressure on legislators since he believes constituents would demand that lawmakers place themselves on the list.
"This could be a fantastic tool for minimizing special interests' influence," Murphey said.
While House Bill 2444 passed out of a House subcomittee and a House full committee it was not scheduled for a hearing on the House floor. State Senator Anthony Sykes won Senate approval for the plan as an amendment to the 2008 Ethics Reform Bill but the reform language was later removed as part of the conference committee process.
Rep. Murphey with High School students from Crescent.