Ethics Commission ruling may spike pro-744 NEA spending

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 03-Sep-2010

The Oklahoma State Ethics Commission said today it would uphold existing state laws that ban contributions from one political action committee to another.

The “PAC-to-PAC” contribution ban developed over recent years in Oklahoma campaign finance law, in response to controversial maneuvers by former Oklahoma House Speaker Lance Cargill.

Today’s proceedings at the Ethics Commission could be interpreted to place a limit or outright ban on a $1.74 million contribution to the Yes on 744 campaign.

However, distinctions between regulation of candidate races and ballot measure races may introduce delay into any consideration of any limits on the NEA PAC contributions in support of State Question 744. It is not inconceivable that the right over S.Q. 744 will be over before clear application of any PAC-to-PAC ban is in place.

The National Education Association Ballot Measures and Legislative Crisis Fund’s contribution was touted a few weeks ago by the Yes on 744 campaign. Today, after the Ethics decision, the

One Oklahoma Coalition, the leading anti-744 group, cheered. The Coalition said the NEA PAC contribution is in violation of state law and must be refunded.

Sterling Zearly, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association and one of the leading opponents of S.Q 744, said, “Just as executive director Marilyn Hughes directed our PAC to request a refund for our contribution to a state ballot committee, we fully expect her to do the same with the out-of-state PAC known as the NEA Ballot Measures and Legislative Crisis Fund.”

During the commission testimony today, both general counsel Rebecca Adams, and executive director Marilyn Hughes, referred to the NEA contribution as being a PAC contribution. Further, Marilyn Hughes specifically informed the commissioners that if they did not choose change the rule, the Yes on 744 campaign would be in violation of state law.

In the Coalition’s view, today’s proceedings are in accordance with page 19 of Oklahoma’s Constitutional Ethics Rules detailing the definition of a political action committee as including groups supporting or opposing ballot measures.  Because of this definition, the NEA ballot fund qualifies as a PAC.

Jeff Wilson, campaign manager for the coalition leading the charge against S.Q. 744, said, “The ethics commission’s decision to enforce existing state law is a victory for all Oklahomans whose elections are not going to be bought by out-of-state special interest groups.

“We were deeply troubled by Yes on 744 spokesperson, Joel Robinson’s comments after the hearing today that regardless of the illegal nature of the campaign contribution the Yes on 744 campaign intends to spend the money instead of refunding it,” said Wilson.

Note: Editor Pat McGuigan contributed to this report.