Last winter I took a phone call with great news. It was a call from a new House candidate in another district who said, “Jason, I have made a decision. I am not going to accept lobbyist money.”
The call was a validation of a theory I have long held: the House of Representatives is a prime venue for a grand experiment of how elections can be won without the use of lobbyist money.
The premise of this experiment is that the relatively small size of House districts should allow a candidate to win an election based on the hard work of meeting and keeping in individual contact with voters, rather than buying the election with lobbyist and special interest donations.
It is possible for a candidate to reject special interest money and still win election.
The benefits to such an election are numerous and immediate.
Once elected, the legislator has no subsequent conflict of interest. The candidate who rejects special interest money will naturally tend to represent the district instead of the special interests. He doesn’t take their money, so why should he care what they think about his votes?
If just a handful of candidates participate in this abstinence experiment, it will absolutely transform the House.
I have also believed that an ever growing number Oklahomans will start to demand that their candidates reject special interest money. They will provide their support and votes to the candidates who abstains from the special interest financing even though they may disagree with those candidates on some of the issues. The candidate who turns down the money will pick up the support of many who would not otherwise support that person.
I know this concept works because over the last few years I have enjoyed the opportunity to participate in a proof of concept experience in House District 31. The concept has been embraced by local residents who want their faith restored in elected officials. They are savvy enough to realize the conflict of interest created by special interests and the impact of the invisible wall about which I wrote last week.
They don’t accept the “everybody does it” explanation for why their elected officials take from the special interests and incur the conflict of interest. I don’t think this sentiment is limited to House District 31 and I believe most Oklahomans think the same way.
Problematically, to advance the abstinence experiment and transform the House of Representatives, we must find candidates who run for office on the pledge of rejecting the thousands of dollars that normally flow from the lobbyist-represented entities to the candidates’ campaign funds.
As you might imagine, that has not been an easy task. There have not been many volunteers. Taking the pledge means the candidate will likely be outspent many times over, and the only path to victory is a lot of hard work.
Thus my excitement when I received that call with great news last winter. The caller was a serious and credible candidate who was willing to work hard and try to make the concept work.
Greatly to his credit, the caller kept his pledge and he won one of the state’s most crowded House primaries. Should he win in the November general election, it will represent a tremendous gain in the experiment to govern on behalf of the electorate instead of special interests.
I will always be grateful to House District 31 residents for their participation in this effort, and I felt it important to share the good news that the effort hasn’t been limited to just our area. It is being picked up in other parts of the state as well where it will hopefully take root and be ongoing for many years to come.
Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.