As Oklahoma policymakers grappled this year with a $1.3-billion budget shortfall, special-interest groups plied them with more free meals, drinks, Thunder tickets and other gifts.

Oklahoma Ethics Commission filings show a total of 195 lobbyists gave out $344,600 worth of gifts from January through May – or nearly $30,000 more than in the first six months of 2015. It was also more than double the $155,892 spent in the first half of 2014 – the last year when stricter lobbying polices were in place.

That change raised the cap in many cases for how much in gifts a state lawmaker or official can receive each year. It also possibly made the reporting process easier, so it’s hard to determine if after 2014 lobbyists began spending more or just reporting more, said Lee Slater, executive director of the Ethics Commission.

Gifts Accepted, by Legislator

The disclosure rules are intended to let citizens know who is paying to curry favor with officials and limit the influence of money. In general, political watchdog groups don’t view meals or tickets as quid pro quo, but the gifts can represent a form of access and influence for powerful special interests that members of the public don’t enjoy.

A key reporting gap remains: Lobbyists, who often have multiple clients, do not have to indicate which client or clients they’re representing when they buy a meal or gift for a legislator or state official. They do have to report the client being represented when they buy gifts or meals for a group of lawmakers, such as a party caucus.

Ethics Commission data indicates that legislators accepted an average of $957 each in gifts this year through May. More than 90 percent occurred during the legislative session, which ran from Feb. 1 to May 26.

The most common expense was food and beverages, disclosure reports show. These ranged from $3 for a food-truck lunch to more than $150 for a single meal.

Oklahoma City Thunder tickets, including for playoffs games, were popular. About 100 tickets, worth more than $9,275, were given to lawmakers and other officials.

All but two of the 149 legislators accepted at least some gifts this year. Those two were Rep. Elise Hall, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, who posts a sign outside his Capitol office saying he does not accept gifts from “lobbyist-represented entities,” disclosure reports show.

The data shows that Republicans took in slightly more than their Democratic counterparts. GOP lawmakers averaged $997 apiece compared with $847 for Democrats.

First-term Rep. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, received the most among legislators for the second year in a row. Felt received $2,971 worth of gifts, mostly in meals and beverages, from 37 different lobbyists.

The other top recipients were Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, $2,626; Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, $2,576; Sen. Mike Shultz, R-Altus, $2,449, and Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, $2,381. Minority Floor Leader Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, was the only Democrat to receive more than $2,000, getting $2,160.

Several top state officials also took in hundreds of dollars in gifts. Gov. Mary Fallin accepted $347 in gifts, including two $80 Thunder tickets.

In addition to gifts to individuals, lobbyists spent more than $171,800 on meals or events that were open to the entire Legislature or the House or Senate caucuses.

Those included a $14,693 legislative reception held in conjunction with a firefighters conference; $11,562 for a legislative reception sponsored by the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, Oklahoma and Lodging Association and Oklahoma Travel Industry Association; and $11,387 for the Oklahoma Youth Exposition’s legislative and celebrity showmanship reception.

Kenneth Sparks, who represents the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, led the 195 lobbyists in spending. But of the $21,545 he gave out, $19,981 was spent on the association’s “Out of the Gate” legislative reception.

Other big spenders were lobbyists who represent multiple groups. For example, Jami Longacre, who represents 10 companies or organizations, made 232 separate expenses totaling about $18,500. Robert Huddleston, who lobbies for Anheuser-Busch, Wells Fargo, Invenergy and seven other groups, made 196 expenses totaling nearly $18,000.

Before 2015, the state limited special-interest groups or companies that employed one or more lobbyists to spending no more than $100 worth of gifts on each lawmaker or state official per year.

With the change, each lobbyist can now give away up to $500 worth of gifts per lawmaker or state official annually regardless of the number of clients he or she represents. That means lobbyists representing fewer than five clients can spend more.

The Ethics Commission also began requiring so-called “legislative liaisons” or “executive lobbyists” – state employees who lobby policymakers on behalf of their agency – to report their gifts.

Gifts Accepted, by Legislator

Oklahoma legislators received nearly $84,000 in free meals, tickets and other gifts during the first five months of 2016.

NameLegislative BodyPartyDistrictLobbying Funds Received (Jan. 1-May 31, 2016)
Rep. Casey MurdockHouseRepublican61$2,972
Rep. Tom NewellHouseRepublican28$2,626
Sen. Brian BingmanSenateRepublican12$2,577
Sen. Mike SchulzSenateRepublican38$2,449
Rep. Chris KannadyHouseRepublican91$2,381
Sen. Kim DavidSenateRepublican18$2,309
Rep. John PfeifferHouseRepublican38$2,294
Rep. Scott InmanHouseDemocrat94$2,161
Rep. Josh CockroftHouseRepublican27$2,147
Rep. Jon EcholsHouseRepublican90$2,125
Rep. Justin WoodHouseRepublican26$2,103
Rep. Charles McCallHouseRepublican22$2,067
Rep. Glen MulreadyHouseRepublican68$2,061
Sen. Greg TreatSenateRepublican47$1,931
Rep. Ben SherrerHouseDemocrat8$1,923
Rep. James LeewrightHouseRepublican29$1,914
Rep. Scott BiggsHouseRepublican51$1,806
Rep. David DerbyHouseRepublican74$1,773
Rep. Chad CaldwellHouseRepublican40$1,758
Rep. Eric ProctorHouseDemocrat77$1,748
Rep. Scooter ParkHouseRepublican65$1,677
Rep. Michael RogersHouseRepublican98$1,655
Rep. Jason DunningtonHouseDemocrat88$1,629
Rep. Kevin WallaceHouseRepublican32$1,627
Sen. Eddie FieldsSenateRepublican10$1,593
Rep. Sean RobertsHouseRepublican36$1,545
Sen. Stephanie BiceSenateRepublican22$1,534
Sen. Gary StanislawskiSenateRepublican35$1,531
Sen. Jason SmalleySenateRepublican28$1,481
Rep. John MontgomeryHouseRepublican62$1,456
Rep. Lee DenneyHouseRepublican33$1,435
Rep. Doug CoxHouseRepublican5$1,414
Rep. Mark McBrideHouseRepublican53$1,413
Rep. Claudia GriffithHouseDemocrat45$1,407
Sen. AJ GriffinSenateRepublican20$1,407
Rep. Mark LepakHouseRepublican9$1,344
Rep. Shane StoneHouseDemocrat89$1,319
Rep. George YoungHouseDemocrat99$1,268
Rep. Terry O’DonnellHouseRepublican23$1,243
Rep. Mike SandersHouseRepublican59$1,219
Rep. Cyndi MunsonHouseDemocrat85$1,215
Sen. Bryce MarlattSenateRepublican27$1,197
Rep. Steve VaughanHouseRepublican37$1,180
Rep. Mike SheltonHouseDemocrat97$1,164
Sen. Roger ThompsonSenateRepublican8$1,164
Rep. Lewis MooreHouseRepublican96$1,163
Rep. Earl SearsHouseRepublican11$1,159
Rep. Emily VirginHouseDemocrat44$1,125
Sen. Ervin YenSenateRepublican40$1,096
Rep. Jadine NollanHouseRepublican66$1,085
Sen. J.J. DossettSenateDemocrat34$1,082
Rep. Ben LoringHouseDemocrat7$1,074
Rep. Ken WalkerHouseRepublican70$1,068
Rep. Mark McCulloughHouseRepublican30$1,065
Rep. Harold WrightHouseRepublican57$1,062
Rep. John Paul JordanHouseRepublican43$1,060
Rep. Katie HenkeHouseRepublican71$1,059
Rep. Johnny TadlockHouseDemocrat1$1,054
Sen. Don BarringtonSenateRepublican31$1,048
Rep. Brian RenegarHouseDemocrat17$1,042
Rep. Jeff CoodyHouseRepublican63$1,038
Sen. John FordSenateRepublican29$1,007
Rep. Wade RousselotHouseDemocrat12$991
Rep. Jerry ShoemakeHouseDemocrat16$984
Rep. David BrumbaughHouseRepublican76$982
Rep. Weldon WatsonHouseRepublican79$974
Rep. Mike RitzeHouseRepublican80$970
Rep. Dennis CaseyHouseRepublican35$965
Rep. Steve KouplenHouseDemocrat24$942
Sen. Charles WyrickSenateDemocrat1$916
Sen. Marty QuinnSenateRepublican2$912
Rep. Leslie OsbornHouseRepublican47$905
Sen. Darcy JechSenateRepublican26$892
Sen. Clark JolleySenateRepublican41$892
Sen. Dan NewberrySenateRepublican37$881
Sen. Patrick AndersonSenateRepublican19$872
Sen. John SparksSenateDemocrat16$866
Rep. John EnnsHouseRepublican41$865
Rep. Randy McDanielHouseRepublican83$863
Rep. Travis DunlapHouseRepublican10$847
Rep. Ann CoodyHouseRepublican64$829
Rep. Dennis JohnsonHouseRepublican50$803
Rep. Chuck StrohmHouseRepublican69$783
Rep. Pam PetersonHouseRepublican67$773
Rep. Jeffrey HickmanHouseRepublican58$753
Rep. Jeannie McDanielHouseDemocrat78$744
Rep. Regina GoodwinHouseDemocrat73$725
Rep. Charles OrtegaHouseRepublican52$711
Sen. Brian CrainSenateRepublican39$686
Sen. Corey BrooksSenateRepublican43$663
Rep. Todd RussHouseRepublican55$662
Rep. Dustin RobertsHouseRepublican21$660
Rep. Richard MorrissetteHouseDemocrat92$660
Rep. Ed CannadayHouseDemocrat15$646
Sen. Kay FloydSenateDemocrat46$629
Rep. Jerry McPeakHouseDemocrat13$629
Rep. Chuck HoskinHouseDemocrat6$625
Rep. Paul WesselhoftHouseRepublican54$621
Rep. Todd ThomsenHouseRepublican25$612
Rep. Jason NelsonHouseRepublican87$601
Rep. Dan KirbyHouseRepublican75$582
Sen. Josh BrecheenSenateRepublican6$562
Rep. Cory WilliamsHouseDemocrat34$543
Rep. Kevin CalveyHouseRepublican82$539
Sen. Ron JusticeSenateRepublican23$522
Rep. Gary BanzHouseRepublican101$521
Rep. Sally KernHouseRepublican84$510
Sen. Susan PaddackSenateDemocrat13$503
Rep. Lisa BillyHouseRepublican42$490
Rep. R.C. PruettHouseDemocrat19$477
Sen. Wayne ShawSenateRepublican3$467
Rep. John BennettHouseRepublican2$458
Sen. Frank SimpsonSenateRepublican14$454
Rep. James LockhartHouseDemocrat3$433
Rep. Randy GrauHouseRepublican81$427
Rep. Donnie ConditHouseDemocrat18$410
Rep. Mike BrownHouseDemocrat4$408
Sen. Anastasia PittmanSenateDemocrat48$395
Sen. Jack FrySenateRepublican42$390
Sen. Larry BoggsSenateRepublican7$382
Sen. Kevin MatthewsSenateDemocrat11$371
Rep. Tommy HardinHouseRepublican49$365
Rep. George FaughtHouseRepublican14$340
Sen. Nathan DahmSenateRepublican33$339
Sen. Bill BrownSenateRepublican36$328
Sen. Rob StandridgeSenateRepublican15$326
Sen. Joseph SilkSenateRepublican5$319
Rep. Scott MartinHouseRepublican46$299
Rep. David PerrymanHouseDemocrat56$293
Sen. Kyle LovelessSenateRepublican45$288
Rep. Marian CookseyHouseRepublican39$281
Rep. Pat OwnbeyHouseRepublican48$274
Rep. Charlie JoynerHouseRepublican95$264
Sen. David HoltSenateRepublican30$253
Sen. Ralph ShorteySenateRepublican44$231
Rep. Bobby ClevelandHouseRepublican20$216
Sen. Jim HalliganSenateRepublican21$203
Sen. Mark AllenSenateRepublican4$192
Rep. Seneca ScottHouseDemocrat72$179
Rep. William FourkillerHouseDemocrat86$157
Rep. Mike ChristianHouseRepublican93$143
Sen. Earl GarrisonSenateDemocrat9$135
Sen. Ron SharpSenateRepublican17$134
Sen. Randy BassSenateDemocrat32$132
Sen. Mike MazzeiSenateRepublican25$114
Rep. Dan FisherHouseRepublican60$112
Sen. Anthony SykesSenateRepublican24$20
Rep. Elise HallHouseRepublican100$0
Rep. Jason MurpheyHouseRepublican31$0

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