What do you do when your state's ethics system facilitates bogus attacks on candidates to improperly influence an election? That's the problem Oklahoma may face, one brought to light by the actions of state Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City.
Reynolds has filed ethics complaints against several state lawmakers, claiming each received more than the legally allowed $5,000 donation from a political entity during one campaign cycle.
It appears Reynolds' main target was state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, and the others were collateral damage. Reynolds backed candidate Paul Blair's unsuccessful primary bid to unseat Jolley.
It's likely clerical mistakes, rather than illegal contributions, explain most of the discrepancies. But Reynolds timed the filing of his ethics complaints to ensure that none of the accused could clear their names before election day. Tuesday's primary election came three days before the Ethics Commission's regular meeting.
According to The Edmond Sun, Reynolds “said he has known about what he alleged as a campaign violation by Jolley for some time,” giving further reason to suspect Reynolds' motives. If someone is so concerned about apparent campaign finance irregularities, why not raise the issue immediately? That Reynolds apparently sat on the complaint suggests his objectives were purely political and he feared Jolley would be exonerated if given the chance.
This is a flagrant abuse of the system, an effort to smear candidates while denying them the opportunity to be cleared of allegations.
Other states don't allow citizens to file similar ethics complaints this close to an election because unscrupulous individuals can exploit the system by making baseless claims. Oklahoma needs similar restrictions.
As it stands, honest individuals can be tarred with dubious allegations and voters can be misled. Lawmakers need to revise state law so ethics rules don't support unethical campaign activity.