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
"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
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
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. …