Oklahoma Ethics Commission wants state campaign finance laws changed
By Kyle Maichle
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma: Members of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission urged members of the Legislature to change the state's campaign finance laws on January 21, 2011. The changes are needed in order to comply with a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the door for corporations and labor unions to have a bigger role in campaigns.
In spite of the plea to lawmakers, the Commission approved changes to its administrative rules in order to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling. This includes lifting the ban on political action committees making contributions to political action committees influencing ballot measures. Also, the Commission approved a rules change allowing political action committees to transfer money to a committee formed to make independent expenditures against ballot measures or candidates.
The Commission decided to throw out portions of Oklahoma's ban on corporate and labor union contributions. Despite the change, it's still illegal under state law for corporations or labor unions to contribute money directly from their treasuries to a candidate's campaign. The changes are consistent with the Supreme Court's ruling that allows corporations and labor unions to spend money independently from a candidate or candidate's committee.
Legislators do not begin their session until February 7, 2011. However, Ethics Commission members have urged lawmakers to get to work on passing a bill ensuring that Oklahoma is fully compliant with the ruling. Members of the Commission approved proposed legislation that would be recommended to lawmakers. The legislation has language allowing the bill to go into effect once the Governor signs it into law.
Marilyn Hughes, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, said that lawsuits have been filed against 19 states over non-compliance. If Oklahoma is sued, Hughes said that the state could pay a hefty legal bill. The estimated legal costs to defend the state could be up to $250,000 according to Huges.