Corruption

Rendering the Lard

Rendering the Lard - May 12, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

One branch in my family tree connects directly to the Ozarks and while most regions of the country have unique sayings that have been passed down through generations, none are more numerous or colorful than those repeated over the decades by residents of the Appalachian and Ozark hill country.

For instance, one could not get much luckier than a farmer who had “cut a fat hog” on butchering day. While today we may believe that swine are killed for ham, bacon, sausage and pork chops, a product that was possibly more essential was the layer of fat that could be rendered into lard and used in cooking for the coming year.

Today, the term “cutting a fat hog” may be used to refer to an unearned windfall that occurs without excess effort and often produces an excessive amount of monetary gain.

Currently, a Bill is laying on the Governor’s desk that may provide such a windfall to lawyers that could be hand-picked by the Oklahoma Department of Insurance. Seldom are windfalls accidental and those that involve government contracts are always suspect. Senate Bill 251 is definitely suspect.

By way of background, Oklahoma and Federal law require that any person who receives Medicare or Medicaid benefits to treat an illness or injury that was caused by an accident or by the wrongful acts of a company or some other person, must repay Medicaid and/or Medicare before they can benefit from a recovery through a lawsuit. For instance, if a person runs a stop sign and injures someone who is on Medicare, the injured person must repay Medicare for the cost of treatment before they are allowed to keep compensation.

In Oklahoma, three or four employees at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority take care of those collections with a part of the recovery reimbursing the federal government and a part reimbursing the state. Those three or four employees have historically been very efficient. Their total salary is around $150,000 per year and last year they collected $8.7 Million. The year before they collected $7.1 Million and just over $8 Million the year before that.

So the cost of the recovery is just a fraction of a percent of the total amount recovered. In what appears to be a “brother-in-law” attempt to channel attorney fees to someone’s campaign contributor, Senate Bill 251 which passed the Senate 32-13 and the House 74-26 in near party line votes will change all that.

Senate Bill 251, now sitting on the Governor’s desk will REQUIRE that 100% of all claims be turned over to outside private legal counsel who will collect the money due the state and federal government on a contingency fee basis. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that lawyers don’t handle contingency fee cases for less than 1% of the amount collected, or even 10 or 15 or 25% of the amount collected.

Oklahoma stands to “give away” millions of dollars annually in the form of attorney fees to one or more law firms chosen by the Oklahoma Department of Insurance. The beneficiaries of those lucrative contingency fee contracts, just like the owners of those fat hogs will be living in “high cotton” where the crops are good and the prices are too.

Questions or comments, please call or write 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

With Friends Like These

With Friends Like These - February 10, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Warren G. Harding, America’s 29th President once famously said, “I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my friends…they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights.”

President Harding himself an Ohio Republican, kept less than scrupulous friends. A tight circle of his “friends” were called the “Ohio Gang.” Among the group was Harding’s Attorney General, Harry Daugherty. Daugherty ended up as a joint owner of a bank account after he helped free up some frozen assets that had belonged to a German company at the end of World War I. The kickback was approximately one-tenth of the more than $500,000 that members of the Ohio Gang received in payoffs.

Charles Forbes, another Harding friend, became the first director of the Veterans Bureau. Forbes had helped Harding attain the White House by use of the motto, “Return to Normalcy.” In the less than two years that Forbes held the position, he embezzled approximately $2 million, mainly in connection with the building of veterans' hospitals, from selling hospital supplies intended for the bureau, and from kickbacks from contractors.

A residence at 1625 K Street in Washington D.C. was the unofficial headquarters of the Ohio Gang. So sinister and pervasive were the activities of the men who routinely met there, the moniker, “Little Green House on K Street” entered the American lexicon symbolizing political corruption. The group meeting at the green house devised the “Teapot Dome Scandal.” Teapot Dome involved the transfer and no-bid leasing of military oil reserves and resulted in Harding’s Secretary of the Interior receiving no interest loans in addition to gifts that today would be valued at between $5 and 6 Million Dollars.

Although no collusion was ever proven between Harding and his friends, Warren Gamaliel Harding passed at age 57 after having served only 2 years, 4 months and 29 days. Perhaps President Harding’s demise was due in part to walking the floor at night contemplating the activity of his “friends.”

This past November, Oklahomans elected a number of legislators who claim to support public education. The bills they are filing are betraying their claim of affection. On its face, SB360 purports to help children whose parents are incarcerated. What it really does is attempt to channel money away from public education instead of properly funding strong public schools, social supports and criminal justice reform. Likewise, SB570 purports to protect children who have experienced bullying. It too takes money out of public schools and puts it in private schools where, I guess, no bullying ever exists.

These “Friends of Public Education” have put forth SB14, disguised as a bill protecting teachers but instead, disregards Oklahoma’s science curriculum and allows “scientific information” that isn’t scientific fact to be taught. It is not the teachers who seek to depart from teaching science and teachers around the country consistently oppose legislation of this type. Also, SB592 hampers the ability of any group to peaceably assemble at the Capitol by requiring a $50,000 bond.

Not to be outdone, one member of the House filed HB2214 to make it illegal for teachers to repeat the walkout of 2018 and just last week House leadership had hallway barriers installed on the fourth floor to keep pesky citizens like teachers, parents and students from getting too close to their offices.

Just like President Harding, Oklahoma public school teachers are realizing, “With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?”

            Questions or comments, contact David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

Oklahoma's Ethical Hiatus

Oklahoma’s Ethical Hiatus - May 13, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

In the 1960’s sitcom “Green Acres”, Sam Drucker’s General Store served as the social and commercial center of Hooterville and like most general stores across rural Americana in the first half of the last century it sold groceries, hardware, dry goods, household items and feed for livestock and chickens. At Drucker’s, patrons found a place to come in and visit, play checkers or rant and rave about community issues.

On election day, the store served as the polling place and year round, the store housed the Hooterville Post Office, operated by…, you guessed it, Postmaster Sam Drucker.

In addition to being the town merchant and postmaster, Sam Drucker served as Hooterville’s Constable, Justice of the Peace, Superintendent of Schools and Banker all the while operating (as editor, publisher and sole reporter) the Hooterville World-Guardian, Hooterville’s weekly newspaper.

Sam Drucker wore many hats….literally, because he took great pride in pulling out from under the counter whatever type of hat he needed to clearly distinguish the type of work that he was doing at any given time.

 While most Hooterville residents appreciated the many services that Sam Drucker provided, periodically issues did arise. When faced with a violation of a traffic law or building code, frustration arose when the violator learned that the Constable who issued the citation would simply “change hats” to serve as the Justice of the Peace and determine guilt or innocence. The conflict of interest became patently obvious when a portion of the fine went into the pocket of the J.P.

Surprisingly, it was not until the 1980’s that appellate courts in Oklahoma ruled that a municipal judge who determines guilt and innocence and sets the amount of the fine should be barred from receiving a salary based on the amount of the fines collected.

However, after the 1992 passage of State Question 640 which established the 75% threshold for the legislature to raise taxes, the legislature delved into the same type of practice. According to a 2015 joint report by KGOU and Oklahoma Watch, during the two decades after the passage of State Question 640, the Oklahoma legislature forced the court system as well as a number of various regulatory agencies to exist using the fines and fees that the agency collects.

As a result fines and fees skyrocketed. According to a District Judge quoted in the article, the legislature’s unwillingness to increase taxes resulted in the funding of Oklahoma Courts to go from more than half in appropriations to just over 10% with fines and fees making up the other 90%.

One area of similar concern involves the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Since its formation in 1990, the Ethics Commission has attempted to fulfill its Constitutional mandate of collecting and making available to the public, information about campaign contributions and generally promoting transparency in government. This session, the Commission drew the ire of certain influential members of the State Legislature.

Certain legislators did not care for the public to have ready access to information about gifts, meals and gratuity received by elected officials, but when the Commission adopted a rule to bar legislators from the frequent practice of accepting financially lucrative jobs as lobbyists for two years after leaving office the legislature used its purse strings to retaliate.

In response, the legislature gutted the rule and made a legislative appropriation to the Ethics Commission of exactly ZERO. It appears that there are only two possible results. Either the Commission will not be able to effectively function in its duty to regulate lawmakers and the money that lobbyists shovel toward them OR the Oklahoma Ethics Commission will sue the legislature for failing to properly fund the agency.

The theme song of the sitcom was “Green Acres is the place to be. Farm Living is the life for me. Land spreadin’ out so far and wide. Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.”  The legislature’s defunding of the Ethics Commission will make it impossible for citizens to know how much “green” legislators receive from those who seek access and favors.

Questions or comments please call or write, 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Oh So Close, Or Was It?

Oh So Close, Or Was It? - November 12, 2017

State Representative David Perryman

Week Seven of Oklahoma’s 2017 Special Session came to a close this week after a vote on Wednesday produced absolute frustration in everyone who was searching for a solution. Any legislator who still thinks that our state is not in crisis has his or her “Honorable” head in the ground.

The vote, HB 1054 failed by a vote of 71-27-1. The Bill contained what had been referred to as the single last hope to fund DHS, Advantage Waiver, Mental Health and Medicaid programs funded through the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. It also included a $3000 raise for teachers and $1000 for state employees.

Due to a Constitutional Amendment that was passed by the people of Oklahoma in 1992, all revenue raising measures need 75% of the legislature to vote in favor of the Bill. When the dust had settled, 82% of the Democrats and only 67% of the Republicans had voted for the Bill. Because the House is comprised of 71 Republicans and only 28 Democrats, the final tally yielded the yielded an overall percentage of 70.2%.

Nearly everyone agreed that the Bill was not a good solution. Many Republicans did not want to vote for the Bill because they had signed pledges to never raise taxes and many Democrats did not want to vote for the Bill because most of the tax increases were on things that unequally affect poor and working class Oklahomans such as fuel and cigarettes and low point beer and the $2.6 Million that would be raised this year from the oil and gas industry nor the $13 Million that would be generated by that industry next year did not seem to be a fair trade-off.

The vote on the bill came the day after a large number of developmentally disabled Oklahomans and their caregivers had come to the capitol to meet with lawmakers and to explain the urgent need that their programs and agencies were facing.

Unfortunately on the day that the Bill was being voted on, buses full of oil company employees parked in front of the capitol and those employees filled the gallery to “watch” the vote. Of course, it didn’t hurt the oil and gas industry’s game plan that a rumor began circulating week before last that one Oklahoma oil company executive had contributed $500,000 to a “dark money” Political Action Committee to support legislators willing to keep the Gross Production Tax low. In the days that followed, news spread of an enhancement of an additional $500,000 by another executive for a total of $1,000,000 to influence future elections in favor of oil and gas.

In the days after the vote, conventional wisdom at the capitol was that the vote may not have been as close as the numbers showed and that it may have been more than a coincidence that the vote failed. Questions arose as to why 7 Republican legislators who had voted for the same exact tax increases on cigarettes, gasoline and beer a few days earlier, voted NO when the Gross Production Tax was added in.

Others questioned the peculiarity of last minute vote changes (some from red to green and some from green to red) immediately after an impromptu Republican caucus meeting that occurred while the vote was open.

Perhaps the greatest mystery was the “inability” of the Speaker to deliver just the five votes needed to pass HB1054. Of the 22 Republicans who voted NO, one was Majority Whip and four were Chairmen of Health and Human Services and Education Committees overseeing governmental agencies that would have been greatly aided by the increased revenue. In fact, those five and 17 more held chairmanships and vice-chairmanships at the pleasure of the Speaker. As shown earlier, the Speaker has the power to remove any member who does not tow the party line and will not hesitate to use that power. No wonder the question around the capitol is, “Was the vote really as close as it seemed or was it calculated to simply appear that way and still pacify the demands of the powerful oil and gas industry donors?”

Call or write with your comments to 405-557-7401 or david.perryman@okhouse.gov.

 

Changing Hats May Not Be Enough

Changing Hats May Not Be Enough For The Common Good - June 8, 2014

State Representative David Perryman

Beginning in 1965, Green Acres was the place to be. “Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside,” was the message contained in the theme song of the light-hearted sitcom that poked fun at rural life.

The rehabilitation of the old “Haney Place” was the main occupation of Oliver Douglas, the city slicker lawyer who had escaped the concrete jungle to pursue a simpler life with his upscale wife who had never been west of Park Avenue.

Green Acre’s characters were colorful caricatures within a larger caricature of rural Americana frozen in time and place. Aside from Mr. and Mrs. Douglas, much of the show revolved around the comings and goings at the Hooterville General Store.

The store was technically owned by Sam Drucker although he said that he had six mortgages to the bank and was working on number seven. City folk had nothing on Sam however, since he kept plastic pickles in a barrel just to humor them.

Perhaps due to the meager cash flow generated from the sale of groceries and hardware, Mr. Drucker also served as Constable, Mayor, Justice of the Peace, Voter Registrar, Superintendent of Schools, Postmaster, Fire Chief as well as the Editor, Publisher and sole employee of the “Hooterville World-Guardian”.

Mr. Drucker departmentalized his various occupations with ethical prowess.  It was clear what role he played by the hat he wore as he performed any “extra-duty”.  Whenever his role switched, so did his hat.  For instance, when he was postmaster, he would stand behind a small “regulation” post office grille that was situated next to the cash register in the store.

In one episode, Sam had to explain to Oliver that he could appeal a decision made by the Constable to the Mayor and in turn to the Justice of the Peace and that a fair trial would be received each time.

Hooterville’s version of dual office holding was tongue in cheek.  However, at the State Capitol there are few checks or balances on the power of a group of men and women who dictate policy, draft legislation and lean on legislators to vote in a manner that is contrary to the best interest of their legislative district.

Lobbyists are a part of government, however, when lobbyists become involved in the selection of candidates and actually own or manage companies that run the campaigns of the selected candidates, there is little room for imagination about the allegiance of those chosen legislators.

Likewise, there is little doubt where the lobbyist will or will not direct the funding of the corporations or industry groups that he lobbies for.  Successful campaign managers make successful lobbyists and the industry has little reason to question the practice.

The final insidious piece of the puzzle occurs when employees of the campaign managing companies are hired by elected legislators as state compensated staffers after the election.

Everyone deserves an opportunity to earn a salary whether as lobbyist or campaign manager or state staff person but when lines are crossed, the likelihood of corruption is present.  Ethics rules must be developed to guard against abuse of a system that already involves too much money and will continue to involve more and more as unchecked amounts of corporate money flows into the system.

Campaign finance reform on both the state and federal level is imperative, but it will never be initiated by the party in power whether Democrats or Republicans.  The system is complex and as always, it is important to “follow the money.” The job of being an engaged citizen is never easy.

Checks and balances are necessary in our form of government. Step up and demand reform. Otherwise, this government will never again belong to the people no matter how many hats are available to wear.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as a State Representative.  If there is anything that I can do to assist you, call me at 405-557-7401 or email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov. I look forward to hearing from you soon.