Force takes aim at outside spending

Force takes aim at outside spending

By Keaton Ross

Oklahoma Watch

Politically active nonprofits allowed to spend unlimited amounts to sway Oklahoma voters should face greater scrutiny, a gubernatorial task force on election and campaign finance threats declared in its report issued this week.

Outside spending soared to nearly $32 million in 2022, more than three times the $10.5 million spent in the 2018 election cycle, Oklahoma Ethics Commission records show. In many races, independent expenditures far surpassed what candidates themselves spent. Federal and state law allows nonprofit groups to raise and spend unlimited amounts on political messaging, often without disclosing their donors, so long as they aren’t coordinating with candidates.

Force takes aim at outside spending

Gov. Kevin Stitt was a frequent target of dark money advertisements leading up to the Nov. 8 general election, including one making an inaccurate claim that he commutes via helicopter from his north Edmond home to the state Capitol. During his February 2023 State of the State address, Stitt urged lawmakers to take up campaign finance reform and in November signed an executive order creating the Task Force on Campaign Finance and Election Threats.

In photo: Deanna Green, 67, feeds her ballot into a machine at the Senior Citizen Center in Thomas on Nov. 8, 2022. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

The nine-member task force, which included former Republican party chairman A.J. Ferate and State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax, recommended a series of changes to require politically involved nonprofits to be based in Oklahoma and provide a phone number that is answered by a person located in Oklahoma for at least five hours per day. It also urged the Ethics Commission to ramp up enforcement of an existing residency requirement for treasurers of an independent expenditure entity.

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