Bill preventing foreign contributions to ballot initiatives, now going to Ethics Commission

Rep. Mickey Dollens votes Jan. 31 during the third day of the special session of the House at the Oklahoma Capitol.
Rep. Mickey Dollens votes Jan. 31 during the third day of the special session of the House at the Oklahoma Capitol.
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Last fall, state Rep. Mickey Dollens held an interim hearing on Oklahoma's initiative and referendum process. Dollens said he was worried that other lawmakers would make the process more difficult.

"I want to expose some of the tactics — not only in Oklahoma, but across the country — to undermine the ballot initiative process," Dollens told The Oklahoman in December.

This year, Dollens' filed several measures that would expand access and, he said, better protect the process.

Two measures have been assigned to committee: House Bill 3810, which would extend the deadline for gathering signatures was assigned to the Elections and Ethics Committee, while House Bill 3815, which prevents foreign contributions to ballot initiatives was originally assigned to the House Elections and Ethics Committee, then was withdrawn and assigned to the House Rules Committee.

Then things changed.

After the Ethics Commission expressed concern, House Bill 3815 was withdrawn from the House Rules Committee and is now being considered by the Ethics Commission as a commission rule. Since Dollens' measure created a new rule for the Ethics Commission, the commission staff asked Dollens to make the measure a rule request instead of going through the legislative process.

Ethics rule would prevent foreign contributions in Oklahoma ballot initiatives

"What his (Dollens) bill address was something new to the ethics rules," the commission's Executive Director Lee Anne Bruce Boone said. "And we talked to him about that and rather than going through as a law putting it through as a rule request."

Dollens agreed. He withdrew the bill and filed a rule request with the Ethics Commission.

"I think it's an important issue that needs to be addressed," he said.

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But just like the legislative process, Dollens' proposal has to clear several hurdles before it actually becomes a commission rule.

Stephanie McCord, the commission's deputy director and general counsel, said once a rule is requested it has to go through a public hearing during a commission meeting.

"If it's a pretty straight forward rule, we would introduce it, get a commissioner to sponsor it, research it, give our recommendations, draft the rule change and then notice it to the public," McCord said.

Sometimes, she said, rules go through multiple public hearings. Once the commission adopts by a majority vote, the rules goes in front of the Oklahoma Legislature, who can approve, disapprove or alter the rule.

McCord said the commission's proposed rules are normally sent to the Legislature in December.

"We are required to have it done before the legislative session begins," she said.

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For his part, Dollens said he'll push to get the rule in front of the commission and push for its adoption.

"Currently, federal law prohibits foreign nationals from donating to federal, state or local candidate elections, except for ballot measures," he said.

Because of that, Dollens said, different countries are attempting to influence state ballot initiatives across the United States.

"Closing this loophole is needed to prevent foreign governments from interfering in our elections in any way."

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: New rule would bar foreign influence on Oklahoma state questions