Proposed increase in allowable gift-giving to legislators raises concern from watchdog group

By SEAN MURPHY Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — A plan to increase by 500 percent the amount in meals and other gifts that a lobbyist can give to a legislator each year is raising concerns from a public watchdog group and some state legislators over the growing influence of money in politics.

The proposed change is part of a major overhaul of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission rules that govern the activities of candidates, campaigns and lobbyists.

Under current rules, a lobbyist is limited to giving a legislator $100 worth of meals and gifts, with more than a dozen exclusions to what constitutes a thing of value. The new rule would increase the limit to $500, and eliminate the exclusions.

“Five-hundred dollars buys a lot of very nice meals,” said Lynn Howell, the chairman of Common Cause Oklahoma, a public watchdog group. “These public officials can be wined and dined by special interests, and the common guy really doesn’t have that kind of access.”

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