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Politicians accept tickets, trips, other freebies

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma politicians, their aides and relatives received more than $125,000 worth of meals, trips, football tickets and other gifts last year, disclosure reports show.

The Oklahoman reported Sunday the freebies included $151 perfume, golf games, candy, tobacco products, ``Grease'' tickets and trips to a rodeo in Las Vegas.

Also given were $100 honorariums, concert tickets and Coach Bob Stoops bobble-head dolls. State legislators were the biggest recipients.

The gift-giving was disclosed in reports by lobbyists and two universities.

The lobbyists represent energy companies, American Indian tribes, tobacco companies, insurance firms, telephone companies, restaurants, bondsmen, trial lawyers and others.

The total given is not known. Lobbyists only have to disclose gifts once they spend more than $50 on a state official or employee over six months.

Some lobbyists let legislators buy back part of their gifts' value so the gifts don't have to be listed, one legislator said.

``I do know that it's pretty commonly done,'' said Rep. Ron Peterson, R-Broken Arrow. ``You'll get calls from lobbyists ... half a dozen in a year. ... It's just something you can do to not be reported.''

Peterson accepted the most of any lawmaker _ more than $3,700 in meals, sporting tickets and golfing.

``It's kind of just building rapport. That way, when issues do come up and they come to your office to ... discuss it, they don't have to ... introduce themselves and go through all that. We've passed all those formalities and can get to the meat of the issue,'' he said. ``I don't think my constituents back home have a big, big problem with it.''

The University of Oklahoma was the biggest gift-giver last year. It gave $33,579 worth of season football tickets to 117 officials, including state legislators, Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, U.S. congressmen and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe.

Each got tickets valued at $287.

``Since universities play such a critical role in the future of our state, I believe it is in the public interest for legislators to know as much as possible about our activities and goals,'' OU President David Boren said.

``That's why I like to get legislators to attend events on our campus. We invite them not only to athletic events but also to fine arts events, special guest lectures and other special events.''

Oklahoma State University gave $17,425 in season football tickets to legislators and Fallin.

``We feel like it's a great opportunity to have the state's leadership visit our campus and see firsthand our world- class teaching and research,'' said Gary Shutt, OSU director of communications.

SBC Oklahoma also handed out tickets to sporting events to legislators.

The events included the Cotton Bowl, the OU-Texas football game, an OU-OSU basketball game, the Alamo Bowl, Redhawks baseball games, the Sugar Bowl, the Big 12 football championship and the Final Four.

OSU made the 2004 Final Four _ the climax of the NCAA basketball tournament. Getting Final Four tickets from SBC were Rep. Dennis Adkins, R-Tulsa; Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs; Rep. John Smaligo, R- Owasso; Sen. Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow; and then-Sen. Ben Robinson.

``It gives us a chance to try to build a relationship with a lawmaker or an official,'' spokesman Andy Morgan said of the games. ``Events like that offer a much more relaxed atmosphere.''

SBC also provided 29 Bob Stoops bobble-head dolls to legislators_ most in connection with the OU-Texas game in October.

Over all, lobbyists for the telecommunications company spent more than $10,600 on tickets, meals and other gifts for politicians last year.

SBC last year was seeking passage of a deregulation bill. The company, however, gave about the same in gifts as it does every year.

``We're one of the state's largest employers. It's important that lawmakers are informed about issues affecting our company,'' Morgan said.
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