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SQ 744: Oklahoma Ethics Commission takes no action on NEA money

Ethics Commission to discuss out-of-state donation to ballot measure campaign
By MICHAEL MCNUTT and JULIE BISBEE Modified: September 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm •  Published: September 3, 2010

The state Ethics Commission today took no action to clarify a rule that has thrown into question more than $1.5 million in out-of-state contributions to the group backing an educational spending measure on the November ballot.

For now, the campaign for State Question 744 says it intends to keep the $1.74 million it has received this year from a national teachers group.

At issue is whether ballot measure committees may accept money from political action committees.

Joel Robison, associate executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association who showed up at today's Ethics Commission meeting representing the Yes on 744 committee, said the money from the National Education Association came from its corporate funds and not from a political action committee.

Robison said a rule that took effect July 1 banning out-of-state political action committees from giving to ballot measure committees does not apply. Most of NEA's contribution, $1.5 million, was given July 15.

Fred Leibrock, an attorney representing the One Oklahoma Coalition, which opposes SQ 744, told members of the Ethics Commission that the Yes on 744 group should return the NEA money.

A complaint was filed Friday with the Ethics Commission saying the NEA contribution is an illegal political action committee-to-political action committee contribution and that the Yes on 744 campaign should return the NEA money.

Ethics Commissioner Karen Long said she was reluctant to act on the matter without giving the public more time to be aware of the issue. She also is concerned about the pending complaint.

Ethics Commissioner John Raley said it could take several months before a final determination is made on the complaint. SQ 744 is on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

"Something has got to be done with this big sack of money," Raley said.

Ethics commissioners today took no action to consider a clarification to existing rules that allows political action committee contributions to be given to ballot measure campaigns. They also failed to act on a resolution which states it was the intent of the commission in the 2008 rule to exempt both candidate and ballot measure committees so that they could receive money from political action committees.

Commissioners said they will take up both matters again at its Sept. 17 meeting.

Their failure to take action keeps in place a prohibition against political action committees giving money to ballot measure committees.

If approved, SQ 744 would require Oklahoma's per-pupil spending be equal to the average amount of money spent on students in surrounding states. If the regional average decreases, Oklahoma's level of per-pupil spending would not change.

Opponents say it could cost up to $1 billion annually to fund education up to the regional average. The measure would not provide new funding for the new spending requirements.

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