An Oklahoma Watch review of campaign data found that sitting lawmakers and legislative candidates’ campaigns have given more than $746,000 to other legislative candidates since early 2016. The practice has raised questions about whether donations are a form of influence buying and should be limited or banned.
Campaign finance reports show attorneys who donate hundreds or thousands of dollars to judicial campaigns frequently appear before the judges they are supporting. With no specific laws on when judges should recuse themselves, the donations raise concerns about conflicts of interest.
Political spending by secretive groups that are allowed to hide their donors have already spent what is likely a record amount this year to influence Oklahoma political races. The spending is expected to surge in the weeks leading up to the November election.
An outside group funded by Sue Ann Arnall, an Oklahoma City philanthropist, spent more than $65,000 to defeat an Oklahoma County district court judge who presided over her 2014 divorce case with billionaire oilman Harold Hamm.
Only four of 28 candidates for statewide elected office in Oklahoma have voluntarily released details about their personal finances similar to what is typically disclosed by federal candidates and candidates in other states. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson released his tax returns and detailed finances. Republicans Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt declined to release theirs, as did most of the non-gubernatorial candidates.
Unlike the federal government and nearly three dozen states, Oklahoma does not require statewide candidates to reveal even the most basic details of their personal finances before Election Day. That means voters will choose the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other officeholders with scant information about their finances and potential conflicts of interest.
Oklahoma Watch has filed a request with all statewide candidates asking them to voluntarily disclose financial information that is typically released by federal candidates and state-level candidates in other states.