InGov: April 2017 Oklahoma Ethics Commission Meeting

Hello friends, colleagues, and clients of GDL Legal PLLC. Welcome back to InGov - your view Inside Government. InGov is a regular column by Geoffrey Long of GDL Legal that covers important news and updates from inside Oklahoma government agencies on matters that are important to you like enforcement, investigations, and changes to rules and laws. InGov is everything you need to know to stay on top of the changing regulatory environment inside your industry. Don’t get caught uninformed, stay updated with InGov by GDL Legal PLLC.

Today I am here with all the highlights and updates from the April 2017 Oklahoma Ethics Commission meeting. 

RULE AMENDMENTS

First, the Ethics Commission considered a proposed rule amendment on PAC contributions. First, a little background. PAC's are eligible to make contributions to candidates before each election where a candidate will appear on the ballot. Each election has a separate contribution limit for the PAC. For example, if a candidate has both a primary election and a general election, then a PAC may contribute up to $5,000 before each of those elections to the candidate. There is, however, an interesting anomaly for contributions after the general election. Currently, if a PAC makes any contribution in any amount during a pre-election period, then the PAC cannot contribute after the elections are over. Conversely, if a PAC has made no contribution to a candidate during any pre-election period, then the PAC may contribute up to $5,000 to the candidate after the elections.

The proposed rule change would put all PACs on the same playing field regardless of whether they contributed to the candidate before an election. The rule change would allow PACs to make contributions after the elections are over up to an aggregate limit of $5,000. To illustrate how the new rule works compared to the old rule, here are two examples:

  • Current Rule: Acme PAC made a contribution of $500 to Candidate Smith before the primary election. After the general election, Acme PAC cannot make additional contributions to Candidate Smith because Acme PAC made a contribution during a pre-election period.
  • Proposed New Rule: Acme PAC made a contribution of $500 to Candidate Smith before the primary election. After the general election, Acme PAC can make additional contributions of up to $4,500. 

A couple of things to note here. First, this is a change requested by both candidates and PACs that will make the Ethics Rules simpler and more reasonable. Second, this is a simplified explanation of just one component of PAC contributions. On the whole, there is more nuanced regulation on PAC contributions you should be aware of if you are involved with a PAC. Finally, this change must still be submitted to the Legislature in 2018 before being effective, but the change should be in effect for the 2018 election cycle. The Ethics Commission did not formally adopt this rule amendment at this meeting, but I anticipate they will at the next meeting in May. If you would like to comment on this rule amendment, you have one more opportunity to do so in May. 

ADVISORY OPINION REQUESTS

The Ethics Commission considered two requests for official Advisory Opinion. 

  • One request is about "Paid for by" disclaimers on reusable and durable materials like large campaign signs. Some signs and other materials can be used from one campaign to the next. The Ethics Rules require including the full name of a committee in any disclaimer, which includes the campaign year (e.g. "Friends of John Smith 2018"). This advisory opinions asks if it is acceptable for substantial compliance on durable materials to not include the year so that these materials can be used from one campaign to the next.
  • The other request asks for guidance on whether it is a misuse of office for members of the Council of Bond Oversight to purchase bonds they review on either the primary or the secondary market. 

The procedure for Advisory Opinions from the Ethics Commission starts with the Commission voting to approve an initial drafting of proposed opinions. Ethics Commission staff will draft proposed opinions and will post them on the Ethics Commission website at least a week before they will be considered at an open meeting. At the meeting the Commission will conduct a public hearing and accept comments on the proposed opinions. In addition, written comments can be submitted at any time to the Commission. Any Advisory Opinion is binding on the Ethics Commission.

INVESTIGATIONS AND ENFORCEMENT

All Ethics Commission investigations are confidential and referred to only by number until such time as a settlement agreement is entered into or a lawsuit is filed by the Ethics Commission to enforce any rule violations. Here is a summary of the action taken at this meeting on complaints and investigations:

  • The Ethics Commission entered into closed executive session to consider 4 formal investigations, 1 lawsuit, and 5 complaints.
  • After returning to open session, the following action was taken:
    • One vote to proceed as discussed in executive session,
    • One vote to dismiss a complaint,
    • One vote to authorize a formal investigation for a possible conflict of interest rule violation, and
    • One vote to authorize a formal investigation for a possible campaign finance rule violation.

 

That's all the updates and highlights from the April 2017 Oklahoma Ethics Commission meeting. The next regular meeting of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission is scheduled for Friday, May 12, 2017, at 10:00 AM in the State Capitol, Room 206. I encourage everyone to attend at least one meeting to see how they work. I hope you find this edition of InGov valuable. Thanks for reading. 

GDL Legal PLLC is The Law Office of Geoffrey D. Long. Geoffrey is the former General Counsel to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. He also previously served as Public Policy Director and Assistant Attorney General at the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office. Geoffrey has extensive experience across state government, and now uses the knowledge he gained behind the walls of government to help people and businesses navigate the rules and regulations produced by state agencies in Oklahoma. If you need help with a Political Action Committee, campaign for public office, an Ethics Commission investigation, or just need guidance on political activity regulation in Oklahoma, then contact GDL Legal PLLC for simple and straightforward solutions. 

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