, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 1, 2014

Campaign finance bill still has loophole

Its wording lets Muskogee City Council hopefuls decline to report contributions

A bill intended to bring more transparency to most local elections by mandating the disclosure of campaign contributions appears to be headed for a final vote in the Oklahoma Senate.

Senate Bill 1745, in its present form, would apply to most candidates for elected positions in municipalities with populations of more than 10,000 and annual general budgets of at least $10 million. Campaign finance disclosure requirements also would apply to most candidates in technology and independent school districts.

Observers, however, say candidates for Muskogee City Council seats would be exempt from mandatory campaign finance disclosure even if the bill becomes law because of the way it defines a municipal office. Like Oklahoma Ethics Commission rules, the bill defines a municipal office as one “for which declarations of candidacy are filed with the secretary of the county election board.”

However, Muskogee’s city charter and code of ordinances requires declarations of candidacies to be filed with the city clerk. City Attorney Roy Tucker said that provision would exempt City Council candidates, who are encouraged but not required to disclose campaign finances, from the requirements of SB 1745 should it become law.

“Rules of statutory construction state the Legislature does what it means and means what it does, and if it meant to deal with every municipality in the state it would,” Tucker said. “Even if it’s a matter of statewide concern, it is only a matter of statewide concern for those cities that meet the definition.”

Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, said she intends to present an amended version of the bill for a floor vote without sending it to a conference committee. Senators unanimously passed the bill in March and passed the latest version a week ago with only four representatives opposed, so final passage appears likely.

The language of SB 1745 includes findings that cite state constitutional mandates that all elections “be free and equal” and prohibitions against “local and special laws for the conduct of elections.” It also states campaigns are matters “of statewide concern,” and that the disclosure of campaign and political committee finances informs voters of “possible conflicts of interest.”

Former Mayor John Tyler Hammons, who tried three times to pass a mandatory disclosure ordinance, said he supports SB 1745 but is disappointed with the loophole that would exempt City Council candidates in Muskogee. Hammons said he presented his concerns to Griffin, but the definition that provides the loophole was unchanged.

“Local elections are largely unregulated, and this would instill confidence among voters, but if we are going to enact campaign finance laws at the local level it should include Muskogee,” Hammons said. “But this is a good first step to protecting our right to vote, and until the Legislature acts, I would call on the City Council to do the right thing and make campaign finance reporting mandatory.”

A Muskogee ordinance adopted in 2010 states that every municipal candidate “is encouraged to file a campaign contribution and expenditure report.” Voluntary disclosure, however, has been spotty at best — only two candidates, Councilors Ivory Vann, Ward III, and Marlon Coleman, Ward IV, fully disclosed the finances of their campaigns during this year’s election cycle.

Mayor Bob Coburn, who won a second term after drawing no challengers, said in 2012 after he was elected that he would continue Hammons’ fight for mandatory reporting. Nearly two years have passed, and he has not presented anything that would put more teeth in the city’s campaign finance reporting requirements.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or

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