Oklahoma candidates accept corporate contributions, afoul of state law

A review of campaign finance data from the Oklahoma Ethics Commission turned up a number of candidates who have accepted donations directly from corporations, something prohibited by state law.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND and PHILLIP O'CONNOR Modified: October 30, 2012 at 10:16 pm •  Published: October 31, 2012
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In what appear to be violations of state law, a number of legislative candidates accepted donations directly from corporations, a review of campaign finance data by The Oklahoman found.

Doris Row, a Democrat running for House District 22, filed reports with the Ethics Commission that showed several donations came directly from businesses in and around her hometown, Sulphur.

“What we're going to do is write the checks back to those donors,” Row said. “We just made a mistake. … We would never do anything that was considered illegal intentionally.”

Row said this is the first time she and her campaign treasurer have run a campaign.

“It slipped by us,” she said.

The donations to Row that appear to be from registered corporations are: $500 from Sulphur Abstract & Title Inc., $100 from DeArman Properties Inc. and $100 from Wayne Edison Chevrolet Buick Inc.

Row also reported receiving an in-kind donation of $504 for advertisements with The Davis News, which is a corporation.

Marilyn Hughes, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, said Oklahoma is one of 17 states that bans corporations from contributing directly to candidates. The federal government also bans corporate giving in federal elections.

“It's just a mistrust of the corporate form because it can amass large sums of money, which makes the playing field unlevel for the average citizens,” Hughes said. “It's also to prevent quid pro quo, giving this in return for that.”

Hughes said most questionable contributions involve first-time candidates who are unaware of the prohibition or don't realize that an entity is a corporation.

Finance rules are complex

Understanding the rules and regulations of campaign finance is difficult, Hughes said.

Some businesses, such as limited liability companies and sole proprietorships, can and do give directly to candidates.

State law limits any individual, political action committee, or business to giving up to $5,000 to each candidate. But corporations are allowed to set up political action committees that can give up to $5,000 directly to campaigns.

Hughes said the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United also opened up the door for corporations to form political action committees and spend an unlimited amount on any candidate as long as it is done independent of the candidate's campaign.

Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, was among those caught off guard by the ban on corporate donations. He accepted $300 from Westview Pharmacy in Tulsa. The Oklahoma secretary of state's website lists Westview as a for-profit corporation.

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