Pro-cockfighting group has spent more than $70K on effort to decriminalize sport in Oklahoma
A pro-cockfighting organization has donated more than $70,000 to Oklahoma lawmakers in a push to decrease penalties for participating in the illegal sport, although the group does not report the source of its funds.
The Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, a political action committee, has donated to dozens of state lawmakers, including $2,000 to Gov. Kevin Stitt.
But because some individuals associated with the organization have been accused of fighting and breeding roosters for cockfighting, which is illegal, opponents of the sport say lawmakers should be skeptical about where the money is coming from.
“Cockfighting enthusiasts at the (Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission) are using ill-gotten gains from their ongoing criminal conduct and buying influence at the capitol to attempt to gut a voter-approved law,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy.
“What’s next, lobby groups for dogfighters and drug lords?”
State finance reports list individual donations to the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, with amounts ranging from just a few dollars to $3,500.
But the names of those who are making the donation are not included in the state finance reports.
The leader of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission said none of its money comes from cockfighting revenue.
“The Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission is in no way connected to any type of illegal activity. No funds were raised from cockfighting or cockfighting venues,” said Anthony Devore, president of the organization.
Devore said his PAC's state campaign reports are appropriate, even after being shown by The Oklahoman that they were missing individual donor names, which is required by state law.
The Oklahoma Ethics Commission does not confirm or comment on investigations into campaign finance violations, said Ashley Kemp, the agency's executive director.
More:Campaign watchdog sees evidence of abuses but lacks the funding to prosecute
But Kemp noted the Oklahoma Ethics Commission's financial resources do not allow it to be proactive in reviewing political action committees.
"We often have to prioritize our attention to candidates participating in the active election cycle," Kemp said.
Two bills would reduce penalties for cockfighting in Oklahoma
Cockfighting has been illegal in Oklahoma for nearly 20 years after a statewide election that saw 56% of voters approve the ban.
Two bills this session would reduce punishments around cockfighting, including Senate Bill 1006, which would allow counties to vote to reduce cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The bill was advanced by a Senate committee last week.
House Bill 2530, authored by Rep. Justin Humphrey, also would reduce the punishments for cockfighting.
More:Oklahoma cockfighting industry says criminal penalties are too steep
"For me, this isn't about cockfighting but is about criminal justice reform," Humphrey, R-Lane, told The Oklahoman. "We've been talking about the need for sentencing reform for drug use ... but how is it fair that someone could go to jail for 10 years (for cockfighting)?"
Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who is a staunch opponent of cockfighting, said lawmakers like Humphrey are trying to reverse the will of voters.
"What (some) legislators are trying to do is overturn the vote of the people through this legislation, with part of the impetus being a slush fund for campaign contributions from the people who are engaged in this type of criminal activity," Edmondson said.
Devore, who has denied any money comes from illegal cockfighting, said the two bills his group is advocating for would simply protect agricultural rights.
"Game fowl farmers, who raise these birds, are passionate about being able to enjoy their freedoms and right of raising game fowl without the outside threat of animal activists and criminal charges," Devore said. "These farmers often donate regularly to the commission."
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma cockfighting group has spent over $70K to decriminalize sport