Financial Donation Supporting State Question 744 Raises Ethical Issues

Thursday, September 16th 2010, 4:06 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

UNDATED -- It's a fight over boosting education dollars. But the campaigns behind State Question 744 are the ones raking in the dough.

And the flood of cash even has the ethics commission weighing in.

There's an ad on TV right now that says Oklahoma ranks near the bottom when it comes to education dollars. But when it comes to campaign money the group behind the ad comes out on top.

State Question 744 would require the state to bring school funding up to the regional average; opponents say that would gut other state agencies.

7/14/2010 Related Story: State Question 744: Funding For Schools At Too High A Cost?

The "Yes" camp has more than $2 million in its war chest, outraising its opponents by more than three to one. While it counts several tribes and state education groups among its supporters, the biggest financial backer of the "Yes to 744" campaign is the National Education Association.  And their $1.7 million donation has opponents crying foul.

The One Oklahoma Coalition wants voters to say no to State Question 744. It claims that the NEA donation violates a state ban against political action committees, or PAC's, giving money to each other.

Supporters of 744 say the NEA donation isn't PAC money and they cleared it with the state ethics commission before it was given.

Ethics leaders say it's a gray area made even grayer by recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The commission will meet on Friday to clarify its rules.

But the proponent side isn't the only one receiving big money donations. The Association of Oklahoma General Contractors wrote the One Oklahoma Coalition a check for a quarter of a million dollars.  And both the Tulsa and Oklahoma City Chambers of Commerce anteed up six-figure donations.

Unlike other campaigns, ballot questions have no financial limits. So the debate over education dollars could get even more expensive before votes are cast in November.

This is not the first time a state question has garnered big bucks. Back in 2004, supporters and opponents of State Question 713, which increased the tobacco tax, raised about $3.5 million.