Oklahoma Ethics Commission wants state campaign finance laws changed

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January 24, 2011

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.[1] 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.[1]

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.[1] This includes lifting the ban on political action committees making contributions to political action committees influencing ballot measures.[1] 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.[1]

The Commission decided to throw out portions of Oklahoma's ban on corporate and labor union contributions.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1]

Legislators do not begin their session until February 7, 2011.[1] However, Ethics Commission members have urged lawmakers to get to work on passing a bill ensuring that Oklahoma is fully compliant with the ruling.[1] Members of the Commission approved proposed legislation that would be recommended to lawmakers.[1] The legislation has language allowing the bill to go into effect once the Governor signs it into law.[1]

Marilyn Hughes, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, said that lawsuits have been filed against 19 states over non-compliance.[1] 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.[1]

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