Panel: Official Can Use Campaign Funds to Defend against Defamation

Article excerpt

Nothing in Oklahoma ethics rules prohibits a state official from using campaign funds to bring a defamation lawsuit to defend his or her job performance and reputation, the Ethics Commission has held.

As required by state law, the ethics interpretation released Tuesday does not identify the requester.

However, the individual seeking the opinion was an incumbent defeated at the November general election, who filed suit against the Oklahoma Christian Coalition for defamatory statements about his voting record.

"Specifically, OCC erroneously recited in its voter guide that you had supported legalized sodomy and bestiality," the opinion states. "In fact, you voted against -- not for -- the bills in question."

Last November, former Sen. Lewis Long Jr., D-Glenpool, sued the Oklahoma Christian Coalition for stating in its 2000 voter guide that Long voted to decriminalize sodomy and bestiality.

The coalition admitted its mistake and apologized, but Long said he did not intend to drop the lawsuit.

Long, a 12-year Senate veteran, lost a close re-election bid to Republican Nancy Riley.

In its voter guide, distributed at some churches, religious bookstores and other sites, the organization said that Long voted in favor of SB 404, a 1994 measure which the group said repealed the statute banning consensual sodomy and bestiality. The bill was a recodification of criminal penalty laws.

The group later said that it erroneously attributed the vote of another lawmaker, former Sen. Ed Long, Enid, to Lewis Long. Ed Long voted in favor of SB 404, while Lewis Long opposed it. …