Proposed Ethics Commission rules that would include religious groups and Indian tribes in the definition of "political action committee" drew opinions on both sides of the issue at a commission hearing Thursday.
The two amendments would require tribes, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and other religious organizations to report campaign contributions and expenditures they make for or against a candidate or state question.
Pat Hall, executive director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said the proposed changes could have a "chilling effect" on political activity, and improperly single out the tribes and religious groups. He also said the rules' purpose is not clear to him, and he believes a more effective approach would be for the commission to discuss the issue with the affected groups to determine whether they engage in such activities. David Craighead, with the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, disagreed with Hall. "We think it is wise to include tribes, churches, temples and mosques," he said, pointing out that a tribe was recently under federal investigation for making a large campaign contribution. "These rules don't impede contributions," Craighead said. "They just require that contributions above a certain level be reported." Craighead, who served 16 years in the state House of Representatives, said campaign contribution reporting is not an onerous task for most of those who fall under its requirements. "There is no reason to fear the reporting process," he said. Craighead also pointed out that in recent years religious groups have ventured into previously uncharted territory for them, some of them participating fairly heavily in politics. At least one of these, he said, has come under investigation for its activities. "We live in a time where religious groups are throwing their weight politically," he said. Whether that is a proper thing for them to be doing, Craighead said, is a discussion for another day. "Why should a house of worship or a religious organization not be held to the same standard as others if they are going to be involved in the political process?" he asked. Edwin Kessler, chair of Common Cause Oklahoma, agreed. "There is widespread malfeasance in the political contribution process," he said. "While you can't address all of the problems, this is a step in the right direction. Inclusion of those entities poses no threat to the sovereignty of the tribes or to religious beliefs." Mike Reynolds, who described himself as a small business owner and active church member, said he thought the commission voted earlier this year to table this proposal for a year. According to commission records, the proposal was tabled at the panel's Jan. 17 meeting, but there is no reference to a moratorium. Reynolds said the pending amendment raises a religious freedom question. Hall said another rule, which allows those making contribution reports to deduct the cost of any meal furnished by a group in connection with purchasing a ticket to an event, should be left as- is. …