A report that revealed payments to a company founded by an Edmond legislator for its role related to the planning of this year's Oklahoma Speaker's Ball illustrates the need to beef up ethics laws for lobbyists and public officials.
Ongoing reporting from Oklahoma Watch about the outsized influence of lobbyists on state government unearthed the $40,000 payment to Poligram. State Rep. Mike Osburn operates the planning and management firm he founded in 2006.
The event, held in honor of House Speaker Charles McCall, took place in advance of this past legislative session. The event, which was said to have raised a record $520,000, "traditionally attracts lawmakers, lobbyists, business leaders and advocates" for various causes.
The fact a legislator who would work with McCall stood to profit from such an event raises serious questions about any expectations that might follow such a lucrative deal. Oklahoma Watch reported that Poligram, according to state and federal ethics disclosures, received payments only one other time from a political or campaign committee. That was in 2008, when it was paid $1,000 during a legislative race in the upper chamber.
Reporting also shows one of Osborn's two co-workers, Marian Free, also serves as executive director for the Speaker's Ball. The nonprofit reportedly paid Free nearly $22,000 for various services in addition to the $40,000 paid to Poligram.
The event raised $523,250 this year from 34 business and special interest groups that likely had business interests that were impacted by measures that passed through the Oklahoma Legislature. Because of a 2014 change in the state ethics rules, the identities of those entities and related contributions are being revealed weeks after the legislative session adjourned.
Voters and the constituents of lawmakers who stand to reap rewards for their relationships would be better served if this information was made available before they began legislating. We deserve to know to whom our elected leaders pledge their loyalties before bills become laws.