Back in January, we wrote about a ruling out of the 10th Circuit that determined that Colorado’s campaign finance laws were unconstitutional because they allowed candidates for major parties to raise more funds than their minor party and Independent competition. At the same time, Oklahoma was considering campaign finance reforms that we felt could be in violation of that ruling.
During this past legislative session, the Legislature passed a campaign finance reform bill that allows for the State Ethics Commission the ability to write its own rules with only a simple approval from the Legislature. Now that the bill has passed and the session is over, the new rules go into effect for the 2016 elections.
We had asked the Ethics Commission about whether they took that ruling into account when drafting the rules, but were told the ruling came after they drafted them. So they told us that they would review the ruling and announce their opinion at a later meeting. It was in the July meeting that they determined the new rules do not violate the 10th Circuit ruling. (PDF)
General Counsel Frazier discussed Riddle v Hickenlooper, a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling regarding disparate contribution limits in Colorado. Frazier explained that Commission staff had analyzed this ruling, and that it would not impact the Commission’s recently promulgated campaign finance rules.
We have requested a copy of the Commission’s findings but have not heard back from the Ethics Commission. Frazier is no longer employed by the Commission and we have not been able to get in touch with her replacement.
It is our opinion that these rules, while not violating the letter of the ruling, do violate the spirit of the ruling. By allowing some candidates to raise more money than others, the playing field is stacked in favor of major party candidates over their competition.
The fact remains that if these rules remain unchanged before the 2016 elections, we will likely see a challenge to the rules and they will more than likely be ruled unconstitutional just as Colorado’s rules were.