Thursday, May 14, 2020

OUTRAGE: Senate Approps Chair amends bill to allow campaign funds for use as personal slush fund

This is a long post, longer than most, but it's very important. Please read it in full so you can find out what the some members of legislative leadership are trying to slip through!

It's the fading moments of the Oklahoma legislative session, prime time for the traditional slipping in of woolyboogerslegislation that would otherwise attract great outrage but are passed swiftly in order to avoid the public eye.

House Bill 3996 is now one such measure.

I'm going to borrow some from a great article at The Frontier:
As the Oklahoma Legislature enters the final days of its 2020 regular legislative session, a last-minute proposed amendment to a bill in the Senate has emerged that would allow politicians to use campaign money to pay for personal expenses including country club dues, mortgage payments, vacations and a other personal items.

The proposed amendment to House Bill 3996 authored by Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, would remove the state’s prohibition against candidates for office and office holders spending money donated to their political campaign committees for personal use. The amendment, which would replace all language in the original bill that was approved in March by the House, has yet to be voted on by the Senate.
You can read the amendment filed by Sen. Thompson. It's shocking.

Gene Stipe would be weeping in pride and envy at the brazenness of this move.

Here's the timeline of the measure:

As you can see, action was taken by the House on the original language, with the bill being passed and sent to the Senate in the secon week of March. Suddenly, on Monday, it was withdrawn from the Rules committee, the original Senate author was removed and replaced with Senator Thompson, and the bill was sent direct to calendar -- meaning it could be taken up at any time.

Since it bypasses committee, Senate rules would need to be suspended in order for the bill to be heard on the floor, but let's face it -- the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee is the author. This would have the weight of legislative leadership behind it. The Frontier reached out to Sen. Thompson (new Senate author), Sen. Dave Rader (original Senate author), and Rep. Harold Wright (House author), but as expected, they report that none of them have responded.


When you read legislation filed here in Oklahoma, words that are underlined indicate new language, while words that are stricken indicate language that is removed. I'll run through some of the eggregious results in HB 3996 as amended.
8. "Expenditure" means a purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, compensation, reimbursement, fee, deposit or gift made by a political party, political action committee, candidate committee or other individual or entity that is used to expressly advocate the election, retention or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidates or for or against one or more state questions. Expenditure shall also mean a purchase, payment, distribution, compensation, reimbursement, fee, deposit or gift for personal use as defined in Rule 2.39; [page 3 of the amendment]
Under current law, funds raised by political parties, candidates, and political action committees are subject to strict limits of use, including restrictions on expenses for personal use. This bill does away with that limit.

SECTION 2. AMENDATORY Rule 2.39 of the Rules of the Ethics Commission (74 O.S. Supp. 2019, Chapter 62, App. I), is amended to read as follows: Rule 2.39. Personal Use of Contributions Prohibited. No contributions Contributions accepted by a political party committee, a political action committee or a candidate committee may be converted by any person to personal use as long as any expenditure from such conversion is reported pursuant to the Rules of the Ethics Commission. "Personal use" includes any use of funds to fulfill a commitment, obligation or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of a political party's activities, a political action committee's activities or a candidate's campaign or responsibilities as holder of a state elective office, as the case may be. "Personal use" by a candidate includes, but is not limited to, food purchased for daily consumption in the candidate's home or supplies needed to maintain the household; clothing (excluding campaign clothing of low monetary value such as T-shirts or caps); mortgage, rent or utility payments for the candidate's personal residence, even if part of the residence is being used for the campaign; use of a motor vehicle for noncampaign purposes or nonofficeholder expenses; interest on a loan made by the candidate or the candidate's spouse to the campaign; costs of a vacation or other trip not related to the campaign or officeholder expenses; admission to athletic events, concerts, theater or other forms of entertainment (except for events that are part of the campaign); dues in country clubs, health clubs, recreational facilities or other nonpolitical organizations and earnings from investment of contributions other than as permitted by these Rules. [page 6 and 7 of the amendment]
The amendment completely flips the status quo ethics rules around. Not only is the personal use ban lifted, committee and campaign funds are now essentially personal slush funds. Allow me to quote from the amendment again. Under this amendment, the following activities can now be paid for by campaign and committee funds:

  • personal groceries
  • mortgage or rent on residences
  • wedding dresses or tuxedos, or any other clothing
  • vacations
  • tickets to sporting events
  • movie tickets
  • country club membership
  • interest on loans given to the campaign by the candidate (how about that!)
  • abortions for girlfriends
  • plastic surgery
That's just the start! Under this amendment, almost anything you can think of could be paid for by a candidate's campaign.

Here's a thread on the bill from the Oklahoma Ethics Commission:

This is an absolute outrage. This is corrupt. Every citizen of Oklahoma needs to know about this. Contact your state legislator today and tell them that this sort of political profiteering should not be tolerated.

This is urgent. Action can take place on this atrocious amendment literally at any moment.

For more on this, be sure and read the great write-up over at The Frontier.


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