Political Action Committees Remain Helpful Tool for Oklahoma Lobbyists

Article excerpt

While Ethics Commission officials ponder whether the $100 limit on gifts for legislators is too much, lobbyists will still retain a powerful tool capable of generating thousands of dollars for public officials: political action committees.

Anyone can start a PAC, confirmed Ethics Commission Executive Director Marilyn Hughes.

"Once you get to $500 in contributions or expenditures, you file a statement of organization with officers," said Hughes.

Each PAC is allowed to spend $5,000 per candidate per election cycle, and the PAC may receive up to $5,000 per election from individual donors. A lobbyist forming his or her own PAC can collect and distribute hundreds of thousands of dollars in an election cycle.

"When I would tell people how much money we were raising and spending, they'd look at me like they didn't believe me," said one former lobbyist who worked closely with an Oklahoma PAC. "We raised about half a million dollars. If you really want to make a difference in races these days, you have to give in the $5,000 range."

Campaigns are ever more expensive to run, and the competition - especially for open seats - is fierce. Lobbyists who are serious about electing candidates who share their views on legislative issues have found creating PACs to be a helpful tool.

PACs played a substantial role in Oklahoma's 2008 election - a landmark election in which Oklahomans for the first time awarded a majority of seats in the state Senate to Republicans, ending 100 years of Democrat rule in the Oklahoma Legislature. Republicans won the majority in the state House of Representatives for the first time in 2004.

Senate Republicans narrowly missed obtaining a majority in 2006. Due to Tulsa Sen. Nancy Riley's switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party, the Senate was evenly divided with 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats. Members of both parties, realizing control of the Legislature was at stake, campaigned hard during the 2008 cycle, raising huge sums of money.

Riley's challenger in 2008 for the Senate District 37 seat, Republican Dan Newberry, received more than $344,000 from PACs. Newberry defeated the incumbent Riley, winning 63 percent of the vote.

Incumbent Democrat Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, brought in nearly $330,000 from PACs, and defeated the Republican challenger for Senate District 7 with 55 percent of the vote.

The race to fill a vacancy in Senate District 21 left by the term- limited former Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan, D- Stillwater, was highly competitive. Republican candidate Jim Halligan won the seat, defeating Democrat Bob Murphy with 58 percent of the vote. …