OKLAHOMA CITY — Several Oklahoma lawmakers must repay their campaigns after violating a new ethics rule regarding how campaign donations may be spent.
Among the uses prohibited by the rule that applies to elections held after Jan. 1, 2015, are the purchase of tickets to University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State football games, concert tickets, home mortgage payments, vacations, country club dues and even gasoline used in driving to campaign events.
Covering campaign costs and the expenses of holding office is allowed by the rule, but not personal expenses.
The Oklahoman reports (http://bit.ly/2bO5kAr ) that many, including House Democratic leader Scott Inman, have refunded their campaigns, and others, including Republican Rep. Earl Sears, chairman of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget, plan to do the same.
Sears bought both OU and OSU tickets with campaign funds. He said he has not been contacted by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and was not aware of the changes.
“I didn’t have a clue,” Sears said. “Doesn’t make me any difference. … I give every one of them away. I’ve never attended a ballgame. If there’s a mistake, slap my hands, and I’ll reimburse it. … There are so darn many of those rules.”
Inman and his wife in August reimbursed his campaign $1,230 for OU tickets bought “for donations and campaign events,” records show. Inman could not be reached for comment.
Legislators for years have used donations to buy football tickets, often reporting that they would be given to local charities for auctions.
Also, a state candidate no longer can buy gas or pay for automotive repairs with donations unless the vehicle is used only for campaign or office travel.
“Under the new rules, only funds, not goods or services, may be donated to 501(c) (3) organizations,” said Ashley Kemp, executive director of the Ethics Commission.
Compliance officers at the commission are reviewing every campaign report and a total dollar amount involved was not clear.
Candidates are being contacted when a problem is found so it can be corrected, and violations are being treated as unintentional, a result of not realizing the rules changed.
The Ethics Commission “values voluntary compliance over coercive enforcement whenever practical,” Kemp said. “In most instances, the commission staff is able to resolve reporting errors by educating the candidate committees.”
Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com