OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Legislature gave final approval on May 22 to a bill banning political contributions from lobbyists to legislators during and immediately after legislative sessions. The prohibition would apply to legislative incumbents and challengers alike.
Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, introduced the measure, H.B. 2704, which passed the House, 90-6. The Senate later approved it, 47-0. Gov. Brad Henry is expected to sign it.
"This is a giant step forward for clean and open government," Dank said. "It puts some important distance between giving money and passing legislation. We have succeeded in separating the lawmaking process from campaign cash."
He said it would stop the practice of lobbyists' handing out $5,000 checks on Monday before action on legislation in which they are interested on Tuesday. Under the measure, lawmakers could not accept campaign cash from lobbyists or the companies or organizations they work for from the beginning of the legislative session until five days after adjournment.
Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, sponsored the bill in the Senate. He called it "a very positive reform that can help improve the faith of the people of Oklahoma in their elective representatives at the Capitol." Coffee, co-president pro tem of the Senate, said the ban on contributions does not apply to legislators who are running for other offices.
The bill has been the subject of months of political infighting, but there was no debate in either legislative body when it came up for a vote.
Dank said he wanted to ban all campaign contributions to legislators and legislative candidates 15 days before and 15 days after legislative sessions, which run from early February through May. He said he was satisfied with the compromise, however.
"I am less worried about Granny Smith sending $10 to her legislator than I am with deep-pocket lobbyists giving big bucks to the same people who are considering their bills," Dank said.
The bill originally banned transfer of contributions between political action committees. Dank said new ethics rules should take care of that problem. Critics say so-called PAC-to-PAC transfers allow the identity of big campaign contributors to be hidden.
The ban on contributions by lobbyists was placed in the state's criminal code. Violations will be a misdemeanor offense carrying a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
Campaign fundraising activities played a role in the resignation of former House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, in January. Cargill has been the subject of an ethics probe into his fundraising activities. He drew criticism soon after being installed as speaker last year when he summoned lobbyists to a private consultant's office away from the Capitol to ask them for contributions to political action committees. He also came under fire for attending a political fundraiser at the home of a Texas businessman linked to an impeached state official and for being late on paying his income and property taxes.