Oklahoma lawmakers spend leftover donations on business travel, bills, sports

Sunday, August 15th 2004, 5:41 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Term-limited lawmakers can't use leftover campaign money to run again for their offices, so they're using the money for football tickets, conferences, car repairs and travel.

Oklahoma law allows legislators to return leftover campaign funds to donors, give the money to charity, use it for future campaigns or use it to pay for office-related expenses not reimbursed by the state.

Legislators are required to file reports showing how they spent the money with the state Ethics Commission.

The Oklahoman examined those reports and found the state's 42 term-limited lawmakers had more than $115,000 in leftover campaign contributions.

Legislators have six years after their last general election to use leftover money, said Marilyn Hughes, executive director of the Ethics Commission.

Sen. Charles Ford, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Larry Rice, D-Pryor, each bought Oklahoma State University and University of Oklahoma season football tickets with excess campaign money.

Ford paid $225 for OSU tickets and $479 for OU tickets, including tickets to the OU-Texas game.

"It's never been challenged," said Ford, who became a legislator in 1966. "If I'm not going, I will give them to someone in Tulsa who has worked for me in past campaigns or other people in my district."

Rice paid $225 for OSU tickets and $299 for OU tickets. He was out of state and couldn't be reached for comment.

Buying football tickets with the money is sometimes acceptable, Hughes said.

Ford also used extra campaign money to pay for National Rifle Association dues, his retirement luncheon and travel and lodging. The travel expenses otherwise would have fallen to the state, he said.

Rep. Mike Tyler, D-Sapulpa, paid $733 for new tires and $354 for brakes for the 1995 Ford pickup that belongs to his campaign.

Tyler noted that legislators aren't reimbursed for mileage for traveling in their districts.

"I am still elected until Nov. 16," he said. "I have expenses as a legislator. I am not done yet, even though people keep telling me I am going."

Tyler plans to sell the truck -- possibly to himself -- and put the proceeds in the campaign fund.

Rep. Carolyn Coleman, R-Moore, spent $1,503 of her campaign money to attend an American Legislative Exchange Council conference this year. The cost included the conference and plane tickets.

Coleman said she could have attended the National Conference of State Legislatures on state money, but she used her campaign money instead.

Any leftover funds she plans to give to charitable causes.

Other legislators spent their money on newspaper subscriptions, membership dues to organizations, telephone bills and advertising.

Until 1984, lawmakers could spend their extra campaign money as they pleased. In some cases, state-elected officials left office with as much as $100,000 in leftover money.