A sweeping ethics reform package making its way through the legislative process will benefit all candidates, not just incumbents, the bill’s author, David Dank (R-OKC) said Friday:
Most Oklahomans believe we need to erect a clear barrier between campaign fundraising and passing laws to prevent even a hint of conflict-of-interest and ‘pay for play’ suspicions. That’s why the Oklahoma Clean Campaign Act of 2008 would ban fundraising by incumbents and candidates alike during and 15 days before and after the annual legislative session.
Officials representing third-party and independent candidates have said the bill would harm their efforts, but Dank said the legislation would benefit all candidates by reducing the campaign-funding powers of incumbency. Dank continued:
House Bill 2196 is a fair and much-needed reform independents should be supporting. There is nothing to forbid a legislative candidate from launching his or her campaign a year or even two years before Election Day, which most candidates do – be they Democrats, Republicans or Independents – because they know what a formidable challenge a political campaign can be.
He noted that independent candidates also have an advantage because they do not have to finance a primary campaign and instead face the voters only at the general election, which gives those candidates more time to raise and spend campaign funds than their major-party opponents.
Although critics have called the ethics reform bill an “incumbent protection plan,” Dank said the new restrictions on fundraising actually level the playing field for challengers:
The current free-for-all system is the biggest incumbent protection plan of all. For decades incumbent legislators of both parties have raised large sums during the legislative session, sometimes totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s not uncommon to see a major donor hand a $5,000 check to a legislator on Monday evening, then appear in that same legislator’s office on Tuesday morning in an effort to influence legislation. That is precisely what HB 2196 is designed to stop – the impression, right or wrong, that legislation is for sale in Oklahoma.
He said an in-session ban on fundraising actually reduces the money-raising power of incumbents:
House Bill 2196 contains vital reforms that can increase public faith in our lawmaking process and draw a clear boundary between fundraising and making law. Democrats and Republicans alike support it. Independents should, too.