Bill could hide donor and lobbyist info from the public

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The dome of the Oklahoma state Capitol seen from behind the Connors Building. BEN FELDER/The Frontier
A bill pushed through the Legislature in the final days of the legislative session could prevent the public from knowing who is donating to political action committees or who lobbyists are working for, a move that would bring significant secrecy to the legislative process. 

House Bill 3613 is now awaiting action by the governor, but if approved it could result in the state’s electronic campaign reporting system being taken offline, according to Ashley Kemp, executive director of the state Ethics Commission. 

The bill would prevent state agencies from collecting any information that “identifies a person as a member, supporter, or volunteer of, or donor of financial or nonfinancial support to, any entity organized pursuant to Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.”

“It might mean we have to take down the online Guardian system,” said Kemp, referring to the pubic website that allows people to search records for candidates, campaigns, lobbyists and political action committees. 

Kemp said she would need more guidance on how to interpret the bill if it became law, but said it could create a “nightmare” situation not just for the Ethics Commission but other state agencies that collect affiliation information, such as the state medical board or the Oklahoma Bar Association. 

The bill was sent to Gov. Kevin Stitt after approval by the Senate this week without any discussion or debate.

HB 3613 passed through both chambers by wide margins – 43 to 2 in the Senate, 77 to 13 in the House. 

Rep. Terry O’Donnell, who coauthored the bill with Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, said he wants to protect the privacy of citizens who belong to political organizations. 

“We are seeing more and more government intrusion into the privacy interests of citizens,” said O’Donnell, R-Catoosa.

O’Donnell said there is a provision in the bill that addresses Ethics Commission requirements, but Kemp said the language is not clear. 

Political action committees currently must disclose contributions electronically through The Guardian system that may no longer be public if HB 3613 becomes law. 

Lobbyists are required to report what organization or businesses they are working for but Kemp said the bill could prevent disclosure if a lobbyist represents a non profit entity. 

“The language doesn’t seem very clear and is extremely broad but it seems to me that it would prevent us from asking for that information,” Kemp said. 

Stitt has until Tuesday to act on the bill.

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Ben Felder

Based in Oklahoma City, Ben Felder joined The Frontier in 2019 and covers education and politics. He previously covered education and government as an investigative reporter at The Oklahoman before becoming the newspaper’s news director. Felder can be reached at ben@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @benfelder_okc
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