Ethics panel bans lead­er­ship PACs

Rule may never go into prac­tice, how­ever

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - BY NOLAN CLAY Staff Writer [email protected]­la­

The Ok­la­homa Ethics Com­mis­sion voted 5-0 Fri­day to ban state leg­is­la­tors from op­er­at­ing lead­er­ship PACs.

The new rule likely will never go into ef­fect, though, be­cause leg­is­la­tors are ex­pected to re­ject it once their up­com­ing ses­sion be­gins in Fe­bru­ary.

House and Sen­ate lead­ers have used lead­er­ship po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees, such as the Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Fund, for years to raise hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars to sup­port fa­vored col­leagues in re-elec­tion ef­forts.

The watch­dog agency con­sid­ered the ban after state Au­di­tor Gary Jones raised con­cerns last year.

“Good,” Jones said Fri­day after be­ing told the rule had passed.

“It gives ... peo­ple ... an un­fair ad­van­tage,” Jones said of can­di­dates sup­ported by lead­er­ship PACs. “You ought to have more of a level playing field.”

The rule specif­i­cally states no can­di­date shall es­tab­lish, main­tain, op­er­ate, fi­nance, make de­ci­sions, file reports or be an of­fi­cer of a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee.

It will go into ef­fect at the end of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion in May, un­less re­jected by the Leg­is­la­ture.

If such a rule had been in place last year, it likely would have re­stricted the now well-pub­li­cized suc­cess­ful ef­fort by Repub­li­can state Rep. Chris Kan­nady to defeat more con­ser­va­tive GOP House mem­bers.

Leg­is­la­tors are ex­pected to vote the rule down be­cause it already is be­ing viewed as an­other over­handed swipe at them.

The Ethics Com­mis­sion and the Leg­is­la­ture have his­tor­i­cally been at odds but the rift be­came par­tic­u­larly bit­ter in 2018.

Of­fi­cials at the Ethics Com­mis­sion ac­cused leg­is­la­tors last year of de­lib­er­ately cut­ting the agency’s fund­ing be­cause stricter rules had been im­posed on their con­duct.

“The re­tal­i­a­tion ... is un­con­scionable,” one ethics com­mis­sioner com­plained.

Leg­is­la­tors, in turn, lashed out at the Ethics Com­mis­sion. Last year’s Sen­ate pres­i­dent pro tem, Mike Schulz, called it a “rogue” agency.

Also Fri­day, the Ethics Com­mis­sion put off vot­ing on a pro­posed rule about in­di­rect lob­by­ing. The pro­posal would es­tab­lish dis­clo­sure re­quire­ments.

Com­mu­nity ac­tivists and oth­ers at the meet­ing Fri­day spoke out against it as a threat to their rights to free speech.

A mar­i­juana ad­vo­cate vowed to be the first in line to file a law­suit if it was adopted.

The Ethics Com­mis­sion will take up the in­di­rect lob­by­ing pro­posal again at a spe­cial meet­ing Jan. 25.

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