Perhaps concerned about possible cuts in state programs and business incentives, lobbyists again have spent more on gifts for legislators and state officials in the months heading into the legislative session.
Lawmakers, elected officials and other state employees received about $60,350 in gifts from special-interest groups during the last six months of 2016, according to recently filed lobbying reports.
The six-month total is slightly more than the $59,545 spent on lobbying during the same period in 2015. Both totals contrast dramatically with those in the latter halves of 2014, when $28,500 was spent, and 2013, when $19,610 was spent.
In both 2015 and 2016, the state closed out the year knowing it would have to grapple with a dramatic budget shortfall in the legislative session. This year’s session opens on Feb. 6.
Lobbyists tend to spend more money from February to May, when the Legislature is in session. But spending trends the second half of the year can reflect more intensity to preserve or gain funding or other advantages during the upcoming session. Special-interest groups now have their eye on a nearly $900 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2018, which could lead to cuts in programs and business incentives.
About $35,000 of the $60,350 spent by lobbyists during the second half of 2016 came during the last two months of the year – more than in 2015. About $20,618 of that amount went toward caucus events held by Republican and Democratic lawmakers in December.
The single largest gift during the period was $9,927 spent by a lobbyist from NextEra Energy Operating Services. The renewable energy company, which owns five wind farms in Oklahoma, paid for a House GOP caucus event on Dec. 4, according to the filings.
The lobbying comes as Oklahoma’s wind-power tax credit, which costs the state more than $100 million a year, is being considered for curtailment in the wake of a review by the state’s Incentive Evaluation Commission. In the latter half of 2015, the largest gift was $8,250, spent on an event for all lawmakers put on by the state-created Grand River Dam Authority.
Other large spending from lobbyists during the second half of 2016 include:
* $2,075 from a lobbyist with the Chickasaw Nation for a House GOP caucus event.
* $1,525 from a lobbyist with the Association of Professional Oklahoma Educators for a GOP House caucus event.
* $1,512 from a lobbyist with the Oklahoma Rural Telephone Coalition and several telephone companies for breakfast during the House GOP’s retreat.
* $1,512 from a lobbyist with the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and several telephone companies for breakfast during the House GOP’s retreat.
* $1,184 from a lobbyist with Cox Communications for lawmakers attending the National Conference of State Legislature’s annual conference.
* $1,000 from a lobbyist with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce to sponsor breakfast during a House GOP golf tournament.
Lobbyists also spent thousands of dollars on gifts for individual lawmakers and state officials; those included meals, University of Oklahoma football tickets and Oklahoma City Thunder tickets.
Several lawmakers in leadership positions were the top recipients of the lobbying during the second half of 2016:
– Senate Majority Floor Leader Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, received $1,393 worth of gifts from 42 sources.
– House Majority Floor Leader Rep. John Echols, R-Oklahoma City, received $1,292 worth of gifts from 29 sources.
– Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, received $1,055 worth of gifts from 23 sources.
– House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairwoman Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, received $1,039 worth of gifts from 21 sources.
– Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, received $709 worth of gifts from 12 sources.
– Speaker of the House Charles McCall, R-Atoka, received $699 worth of gifts from 14 sources.
– House Assistant Floor Leader Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, received $625 worth of gifts from 20 sources.
– Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, who resigned in December, received $617 worth of gifts from 12 sources.
Among other state officials, Gov. Mary Fallin received the most lobbying attention, with $475 worth of gifts from three lobbyists.
Oklahoma Ethics Commission rules allow each lobbyist to give up to $500 worth of gifts per lawmaker or state official.
Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, has introduced a bill that would prevent lobbyists from spending more than one cent on any recipient. Murphy is one of a handful of legislators who refuse to accept gifts from lobbyists.