For Thunder fans, the 2012 season was a magical ride that ended with the team falling in the NBA Finals.
For 37 politicians, it was a free ride, paid for by corporate lobbyists who spent about $4,000 hosting lawmakers at games throughout the year.
The information was included in reports filed Friday with the state Ethics Commission. Under new stricter reporting laws passed a few years ago, lobbyists now are limited to spending no more than $100 per lawmaker per year.
Leading the Legislature in number of Thunder games attended on a lobbyist's tab was Rep. Richard Morrissette, with four.
Morrissette was at the Chesapeake Energy Arena for games against the Lakers, Suns, Clippers and Kings. Lobbyist Don Williams hosted him to two games, once on behalf of the Oklahoma Wholesale Marketers Association and once on behalf of Bristow Rubber Recycling LLC.
Pat McFerron, a lobbyist with CMA Strategies, also took Morrissette to a game, as did the State Chamber.
Friday, Morrissette — whose committee assignments include economic development and the judiciary — defended his attendance, saying Williams was an “old friend” and McFerron “is also a friend, an acquaintance for many years.”
“They called and said, ‘Do you want to go,' and I said, ‘Sure,'” said Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. “It was legal, it was reported. There's nothing to hide here.”
Asked why lobbyists would provide lawmakers with coveted tickets, Morrissette said, “I have no idea. I can't read their mind,” but added it would “absolutely not” influence his actions at the Capitol.
McFerron, who hosted politicians at three games, said he doesn't think he talked one word of policy to his guests during the games and based the invites on friendships.
Among the eight companies and associations McFerron represents are AT&T, the Oklahoma District Attorney's Association and Walmart.
“Quite frankly I would probably like to use them more for business, but I have a wife and kids who want to go to the games,” McFerron said. “The Thunder tickets are too valuable. I do use them ... but lots of times my family gets first veto power.”
Williams, a former state Democratic lawmaker from Balko, reported giving 13 tickets to 11 lawmakers for a reported value of $1,267. He reported the tickets were given on behalf of Oklahoma Wholesale Marketers Association, Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators, Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools, Bristow Rubber Recycling, and Waste Management.
He did not return phone calls Friday.
The State Chamber handed out the most tickets, 29, with a value of $2,304.
Gwendolyn Caldwell, a registered lobbyist for the State Chamber, said the Chamber takes lawmakers to Thunder games “because, first off, it gives you three hours of uninterrupted time to visit with lawmakers in a much more relaxed environment than the capitol.”
“Do I think anyone calls me back because we have Thunder tickets and I may be inviting them to a game? No,” she said. “But are they calling me back because we've built better relationships and have better dialogue because we've spent time together?”
She said the games also provide an opportunity to connect business leaders with lawmakers.
Lobbyist Shelley Shelby, who represents Cox Communications, reported giving “tickets” to two senators on a date that corresponds with a May 21 playoff game against the Lakers. She could not be reached for comment.
Nathan Atkins, communications director for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, went to three Thunder games: once with the State Chamber and twice with McFerron, whom he described as a friend.
Atkins said accepting tickets to games is “totally appropriate.” But because lawmakers have to reimburse lobbyists for any ticket cost in excess of $100, Atkins said some are reluctant to do so fearing the appearance of impropriety.
“They would rather go have a sandwich,” Atkins said.
McFerron said the face value of both tickets he gave Atkins was $56, so Atkins reimbursed him $12.
Rep. Scott Inman, the House minority leader, attended three Thunder games paid for, in part, by lobbyists. He pointed out that many lawmakers accept free or reduced ticket to OU and OSU athletic events and that he saw nothing wrong with the practice.
“I know there's not anything nefarious going on,” said Inman, D-Del City.
He said the games help lobbyists and lawmakers build relationships and that business is rarely discussed.
Asked if the free tickets might effect his decision making at the Capitol, Inman said, “of course not.”