Ethics controversy flows from complaint about Senator Clark Jolley

A complaint lodged before the Oklahoma Ethics Commission about Republican Senator Clark Jolley’s April 1 campaign statement of organization has stirred controversy over the powerful Appropriations Committee chairman’s timing and adherence to election provisions. 

Sen. Jolley asserts, The Edmond Sun reports, that the ethics complaint is a campaign tactic. Jolley also said he has reported all campaign contributions, contending the complaint “is a desperate attempt to paint me as unethical.” He blamed the filing on his Republican primary opponent “and his supporters.” 

CapitolBeatOK discussed the ethics filing, and state election law provisions, with University of Oklahoma political science Professor Ronald Keith Gaddie, also editor of the Social Science Quarterly. 

In response to questions from CapitolBeatOK, Professor Gaddie reflected, “The problem with campaign finance issues in Oklahoma are two-fold. First, the ethics commission does not have a history of aggressively pursuing technical and paperwork failures by candidates. Second, it is possible that Senator Jolley assumed that he was operating under his old committee — there was no intent to act in bad faith.”

Gaddie, a widely acknowledged analyst of state politics, continued, 

“Campaign finance issues are technical; they don’t usually resonate with most voters because they are complicated and difficult to explain. For an issue like this to have a political impact, there has to be some other defect with the candidate, some other shortcoming or pattern of behavior to marry to the ethics complaint.”

Robert Donohoo, a resident of Senate District 41 in Edmond (Oklahoma) lodged his complaint before the Oklahoma Ethics Commission on Friday (June 1). He then informed a few state Capitol press room reporters, including CapitolBeatOK, of the filing, providing them copies of what he had submitted. 

In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, Donohoo said his concern was that “Senator Jolley was gathering funds and expending long before he filed for re-election.” He said his hopes were “that the violations of Ethics Rules would be exposed, and brought out for what they are.” 

Donohoo pointed to a January 31 fundraising event for Jolley’s reelection, although he “failed to file a statement of organization for his 2012 campaign until April 1, 2012.” Donohoo says the “SO-1” (statement of organization form) “was due within 10 days of accepting or spending in excess of $500 or by February 10.” 

Donohoo also contends a Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Report “would have been due from the committee between April 1 and 30, 2012. No campaign report for Jolley’s 2012 campaign, pursuant to 258*19-1-13(a) has been filed to date.”

Jolley may have held a fundraiser as early as December 2011, and participated in an event by January 31. He announced his bid for re-election in a March 1 press release. Instructions provided to all candidates who file finance reports with the Ethics Commission specify that when they raise or expend $500 for a campaign, it must be reported. Indeed, if changes to a statement of organization occur, they are to be reported “no later than 10 days after a change (except officer vacancies).”
CapitolBeatOK first reported the issue on Tuesday (May 29), three day’s before Donohoo’s filing

Reporter James Coburn highlighted for the Edmond Sun (June 1) the historic Ethics Commission provisions barring disclosure of ethics filings, calling attention to a rule that states: “A complaint alleging a violation … must remain confidential; it is unlawful to disclose: The contents of a complaint; a person’s intention to file a complaint; the fact that a complaint has been filed; or a person’s knowledge of another person’s intention to file a complaint. A person convicted of disclosing material made confidential by the PSEA shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $10,000.”

Michael McNutt of The Oklahoman, reporting on the ethics filing against Sen. Jolley on Saturday (June 2), wrote: 

“At one time, the Ethics Commission had a gag rule that prohibited people from talking about complaints filed with the state agency. Its intent was to protect the reputations of falsely accused officials. But the Ethics Commission decided in 2009 that it would no longer enforce the rule after it was alleged it violated free speech rights.”
McNutt reported Sen. Jolley transferred $217,361 from Friends of Clark Jolley 2010 to the Senate re-election committee formed on April 1.