Organizers cancel upcoming event honoring state House Speaker, citing looming special legislative session

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Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, at the 2017 Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball event in Oklahoma City. Courtesy/OKLAHOMA SPEAKER’S BALL

Organizers have canceled an upcoming annual black-tie gathering of lawmakers, corporate executives and other officials celebrating the incoming Oklahoma Speaker of the House, citing an upcoming special legislative session.

The Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball was scheduled to be held Jan. 27, 2018, at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. However, on Wednesday, the organization’s chairman Robert McCampbell sent a letter to donors and those signed up to attend stating that the event had been canceled.

“Due to the time demands on legislators required by the recent special session of the Legislature and the uncertainty with respect to time issues of the anticipated second special session, the Speaker’s Ball…will not occur,” the letter signed by McCampbell states. “The business of the special session must take precedence, of course.”

The event will be held again in 2019, McCampbell said.

Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to call a second special session of the Legislature after vetoing parts of budget bills passed during a special session of the Legislature that began Sept. 25 and lasted until Nov. 17.

The special session came about after a group of tobacco companies, wholesalers and retailers brought a lawsuit against the state, including House Speaker Charles McCall, alleging that the Legislature had passed a tax increase on cigarettes of $1.50 per-pack without the constitutionally-required three-fourths approval of both legislative chambers.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed with the tobacco company attorneys arguing their case and ruled the law unconstitutional, creating a $215 million hole in the state’s budget. That move prompted Fallin to call what would turn out to be a politically rough special legislative session.

The lead attorney who represented the tobacco companies in the case was McCampbell.

Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball Chairman Robert McCampbell at the event in 2017. Courtesy/OKLAHOMA SPEAKER’S BALL.

McCampbell said the cancellation of the 2018 Speaker’s Ball is unrelated to his role in the case.

“It is just a coincidence arising because in addition to practicing law, I also serve in a volunteer capacity for the Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball,” McCampbell said.

Rather, the upcoming second special session, combined with the regular legislative session beginning on Feb. 5, leaves little time for lawmakers to take a break, McCampbell said.

A telephone message left Thursday by The Frontier for a media spokesman for McCall was not returned.

Individuals and corporations who have already donated to the Speaker’s Ball will have their donations refunded, McCampbell said, and the organization will still give a $25,000 donation to this year’s chosen charity – Folds of Honor.

The Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball has been in existence since 2004. Last year’s event, held in Oklahoma City, celebrated the McCall’s elevation to Speaker of the House and had nearly 1,000 people signed up to attend.

The event usually features entertainment acts, food and drinks, dancing and political speeches, and is attended by most members of the Legislature and the politically-connected in Oklahoma. It is sometimes considered the “kick-off” to the regular legislative session.

A “moving statue” featured as part of the entertainment at the 2013 Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball event. Courtesy/BEA PENHALL, About Last Night.

The Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball is a 501 (c)4 organization under IRS rules, and files annual reports with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, under which it is considered a special function committee.

The organization receives hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from individuals, organizations and corporations, most of which go toward paying for the event, according to Ethics Commission and IRS filings. Under Ethics Commission rules, there is no limitation to the amount an individual can give to the organization.

According to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s website, the group’s status as a Charitable Organization under Oklahoma state law (which is required for most charitable organizations that solicit funds from the public) expired on Oct. 6, 2016, when its status was not renewed.

An employee at the Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that the charitable status had expired in October 2016. However, McCampbell said he had renewed the organization’s status in early November this year, and provided a copy of a canceled check written to and processed by the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office for renewal of the organization’s charitable status.

The organization raised around $443,000 between December 2016 and June 2017, Ethics Commission records show. The highest contributors were the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, the University of Oklahoma Foundation Inc., Ameristate Bank, Devon Energy and the Oklahoma Spine Hospital, each giving $20,000 at various times.

That year, the organization donated $5,000 to both the Northwestern Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma State University foundations, as well as $20,000 to Oklahoma CASA. It spent around $336,000 on event and bookeeping fees.

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze
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