It can be risky business under Oklahoma law if you want to buy an
election with someone else's money or borrowing power.
State candidates can be subject to fines under the jurisdiction
the Oklahoma Ethics Commission if they exceed the $5,000
limit, whether it's a loan or an outright donation.
That's the same form of penalty meted out by the Federal Election
Commission for candidates for Congress who violate federal rules.
But in Oklahoma, under a law authored by House Speaker-designate
Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, a state candidate can face a felony charge
if a campaign infraction involves an amount more than double the
Again, the law applies to both donations and loans.
Campaign loans have long been a hot-button topic in Oklahoma.
Current state laws and ethics rules governing loans and
are partly the legacy of the two gubernatorial campaigns of former
Gov. David Walters.
In 1986, Walters was named in an ethics complaint questioning
$162,500 in loans from individuals, including $125,000 from an
Oklahoma City contractor. Walters used the money for television
advertising that helped him get into a Democratic runoff in the
governor's race with then-Attorney General Mike Turpen.
Walters argued there was nothing wrong with his campaign loans
since he used his home as collateral, with friends and associates
obtaining second mortgages.
But the legal fight that ensued tied up the Walters' campaign for
part of the general election race and is often cited as a reason he
lost to Republican Henry Bellmon.
Bellmon appointed a special prosecutor to review the case. The
prosecutor eventually found that the state campaign law was
but was unconstitutional and could not be prosecuted.
Walters came back in 1990 to win election as the state's chief
executive. But his term was marred by a controversy over campaign
law excesses, leading to his indictment on felony accusations.
In his last year, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation in
district court as part of a plea agreement. He was given a deferred
sentence and the violation has since been wiped off the record.
Ethics rules adopted in 1994 avoid the constitutional pitfalls
cited in 1986, says Marilyn Hughes, executive director of the Ethics
"It's a fix," she said, adding that the state ethics rules
governing loans are enforceable "as far as the case law I'm aware
She said the old campaign laws were too broad, defining all loans
as contributions. …