Lobbyists are spending less money wining and dining Oklahoma lawmakers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change how the public, including paid lobbyists, interacts with their representatives.

 Recently released Ethics Commission reports show spending by lobbyists is at the lowest levels since at least 2015.

 Lobbyists spent almost $187,000 the first four months of 2021, according to the latest disclosures. Nearly $400,000 was spent at this point in 2019.

 The drop comes as lawmakers added COVID-19 protocols that included social-distancing requirements, fewer seats in committee rooms and a mask requirement for visitors to the public — a rule many lawmakers have ignored.

 Lobbyist spending was also down last year after COVID-19 caused lawmakers to suspend that session as cases began climbing in April. But this year’s total is still running below 2020.  

 Reports show that lobbyists haven’t slowed down too much in buying food, drinks or gifts to individual lawmakers. Many have pulled back, however, on their spending on bigger events.

 Only $26,600 has been spent so far this year on events that all lawmakers are invited to attend, such as receptions or come-and-go lunches. In typical years, more than $100,000 is spent on these events.

  An Oklahoma Watch review shows the average lawmaker has taken in an average of $727 worth of food, drinks or gifts as of May 1.

Among the other findings:

  • Republicans took in more ($788 per lawmaker) than their Democratic counterparts ($465 per lawmaker).
  • Of the 15 lawmakers who received the most, all were Republicans.
  • State Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, took in far more than any other lawmaker, according to Ethics Commission reports. He received more than $3,640 in meals or gifts — an average of nearly $76 for every day the Senate had been in session.
  • Other lawmakers who reported high amounts include Sen. Cody Rogers, R-Tulsa; Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah; Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawson; Sen. Chuck Hall, R-Perry; and Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City. They all received at least $2,000 worth of gifts for meals.
  • Only two lawmakers — Reps. Rick West, R-Heavener, and Tom Gann, R-Inola — did not receive gifts or meals from lobbyists.

Receiving food or gifts from lobbyists isn’t the only way that lawmakers can benefit during the session.

Unlike some other states, Oklahoma does not have a broad ban on campaign fundraising during the session.

State law bans lobbyists and the companies or groups employing them from making or promising to make campaign contributions during the session.

Nothing stops individuals in their personal capacity or from political action committees, as long as the PAC doesn’t employ registered lobbyists.

An Oklahoma Watch review of the latest campaign filings, which includes donations through March 31, shows 60 lawmakers have taken in more than a million dollars combined in campaign contribution since the session started at the beginning of February.

Fundraising in the second half of the session will be disclosed when campaign finance reports are filed by the end of July.

The biggest earners were:  House Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, who collected $11,700; Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, who collected $11,400; and Rep. Eric Roberts, R-Oklahoma City.

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