Proposed Ethics Commission Change To Political Contributions Would Harm Independents And Create Lopsided Elections

Earlier this week, Lee Slater, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, introduced a proposal to reform Oklahoma’s political contribution laws, particularly those regulating how much individuals and families can donate to campaigns. His reasoning is that the current laws are punitive toward families.

I believe that family limit to be unconstitutional. I believe that it discriminates against a married person as opposed to a single person.

The current campaign contribution limits, found in Rule 257:10-1-1 of the Oklahoma Statutes, reads as follows:

No person or family may contribute more than five thousand dollars ($5,000) to a candidate for state office or to a candidate committee authorized by such a candidate to accept contributions or make expenditures on his behalf during a campaign as defined in Chapter 1, Section 2 and as provided in Paragraphs (4) and (5) of this subsection. No candidate or candidate committee shall knowingly accept a contribution in excess of five thousand dollars ($5,000) from a person or family during a campaign.

Under the current law, A married couple would only be able to donate a combined $5,000 to a particular candidate, yet their unmarried friends could donate a combine $10,000 to a different campaign. We agree that this language is especially punitive toward those who are married. However,  Mr. Slater’s proposal goes much further than simply striking the phrase “or family” from the statute.

Under Mr. Slater’s proposal, the $5,000 contribution limit would also change. Current law limits the individual or family contributions to $5,000 for the entirety of the campaign. Which means from the moment the candidate registers intent with the Ethics Commission to the election, you cannot give that candidate more than $5,000. Slater’s proposal changes that limit to a $2,600 limit per election. This means that you can donate up to $2,600 to a candidate for the primary election, another $2,600 for the run-off primary, and another $2,600 for the general election but only if that candidate would appear on the ballot in those elections. Those who do not appear on a primary ballot because they ran unopposed in their party would be limited to only $2,600 per contributor for the entire campaign.

For an illustration of why this isn’t a good idea, I compiled a list of elections from the 2012 election season that would have had lopsided contributions if this proposal had been in place in 2012.

  • In the State Senate District 15 race, Rob Standridge (R) appeared on the ballot for all three qualifying elections while his November competition, Claudia Griffith (D), appeared only on the November Ballot. This placed Standridge at an advantage of $5,200 per contributor over Griffith.
  • In the State Senate District 43 race, Corey Brooks (R) appeared on the ballot for all three qualifying elections while his November competition, Mike Fullerton (D), appeared only on the November Ballot. This placed Brooks at an advantage of $5,200 per contributor over Fullerton.
  • In the State House District 14race, Jerry Rains (D) appeared on the ballot for all three qualifying elections while his November competition, Arthur Hulbert (R), appeared only on the November Ballot. This placed Standridge at an advantage of $5,200 per contributor over Griffith.
  • In the State House District 88 race, Kay Floyd (D) appeared on the ballot for all three qualifying elections while her November competition, Aaron Kaspereit (R), appeared only on the primary and November ballots. This placed Floyd at an advantage of $2,600 per contributor over Kaspereit.
  • State Senate Districts 7, 11, 39, and 41 all had one candidate who appeared in a primary against a candidate who ran unopposed in his or her party. Those candidates who were in a primary had a $2,600 advantage over their opponents.
  • State House Districts 3, 22,  23, 26, 27, 32, 36, 37, 45, 51, 60, 71, 86, and 101 all had one candidate who appeared in a primary against a candidate who ran unopposed in his or her party. Those candidates who were in a primary had a $2,600 advantage over their opponents.

As can be seen from these races, this proposal would create some very lopsided races throughout the state. It is hard to see how that would benefit the people of Oklahoma.

What is especially appalling in this proposal is the punitive nature of it toward Independent candidates. While both Democratic and Republican candidates have access to primary ballots, and thus the extra funds available by appearing on those, Independent candidates are by law restricted only to the November election. Which means there is no possible way an Independent candidate could receive more than $2,600 per contributor while her opposition has a potential $7,800 per contributor.

As the law currently stands, a simple compromise of striking the phrase “or family” would be greatly improved and fix what Slater feels is unconstitutional. There is no need to introduce changes to the contribution limits that would unfairly restrict the ability of Independent candidates to raise money and which would also created lopsided races throughout Oklahoma. We hope that Oklahoma’s lawmakers would also see this major flaw and avoid that particular change.

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3 thoughts on “Proposed Ethics Commission Change To Political Contributions Would Harm Independents And Create Lopsided Elections

    • Thank you for the link. Based on my reading of the ruling, the court found the problem to be in the fact that Republican and Democratic held a “primary” even if they were unchallenged while minor party and unaffiliated candidates only held a primary if they were challenged. So the state could still implement the scheme as long as candidates only got contributions for elections they actually participated in. So an unchallenged Republican or Democrat would only be able to receive $2,600 per contributor.

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