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Out-of-state trips precede Oklahoma Senate vote

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 19, 2014 at 7:00 pm •  Published: February 19, 2014
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Several Oklahoma legislators accepted expenses-paid trips to Miami and Las Vegas from a group that wants to change the way the U.S. elects a president, but because the travel was sponsored by a nonprofit group, rather than traditional lobbyists, there's no requirement for the lawmakers to disclose the trips to the public.

FairVote, which wants states to allocate electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes nationally, extended invitations to legislators to attend seminars to learn more about the national popular vote proposal. Another one is set for next month in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

One House member and two state senators, including one who sponsored a bill to change Oklahoma's law, told The Associated Press they were among the Oklahoma legislators who attended the seminars. All three said the trips didn't influence their position on the bill, which passed the Senate last week on a 28-18 vote and was sent to the House.

"To me it's a good way to actually sit down and discuss issues uninterrupted away from the Capitol building," said state Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Yukon, the Senate author of the bill. "I understand some people's concerns, but they're not junkets. We're there to work. We sat there the entire time and discussed the issue."

Also attending were Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, and Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman. Sparks and Johnson both support the bill, while Newell said he opposes it.

Because the trips were not funded by lobbyists or the companies that employ them, there is no requirement that the lawmakers disclose the travel and lodging, said Lee Slater, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

A legislator who did not make a trip said the travel and lodging should be disclosed.

"It's a mighty inappropriate loophole that needs to be closed," said Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, a longtime critic of the influence that lobbyists and the companies they represent have at the Capitol. "It's the lack of transparency that concerns me, the fact that very few in the public knew these trips were even going on."

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