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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Election Cheats in Oklahoma Finally Get Theirs

Six years after an Oklahoma lawyer illegally funneled over $300,000 into Walt Roberts' 1998 Congressional campaign, the FEC finally got around to fining him, as reported by Chris Casteel in The Oklahoman. In smashing the legal limits of what he could contribute to Roberts' campaign, the lawyer, Gene Stipe, used his secretaries as conduits, conducted a sham auction to buy some of Roberts' art, and loaned money to Roberts through a defunct loan company.

That year, Roberts won his way into a run-off, then won the run-off before eventually losing in the general election. Four years later, the FEC recommended the Stipe-Roberts case for prosecution to the US Department of Justice; two years after that, the agency in charge of overseeing U.S. elections finally got around to issuing fines against the men.

So what's the problem? All this is ancient history, right? Well, at the very least, Roberts' opponents in the first round of voting and then the run-off were unfairly disadvantaged. Some of his potential opponents might not have run at all because of the large amounts of cash Roberts was able to raise early on. Also, the people of Oklahoma were presented with choices on the ballot which did not necessarily represent the interests of the Oklahoma electorate, but rather the interests of one big donor - a big donor who had no qualms breaking the law to get his man elected.

What if Roberts had been elected? How many votes would he have cast ostensibly in the name of the Oklahomans in his district, but which would have been in the name of his criminal-minded patron instead? It is a scary thought.

Wealthy interests still have the ability to sway elections in their favor - for example, this year, a wealthy couple could have given Bush or Kerry $8,000, an additional $50,000 to national party committees, another $20,000 to local or state party committees, up to $10,000 to their favorite political action committees, and still have money left over for a few more national candidates. These amounts give the rich a ridiculous amount of influence over who gets elected in our country.

Regardless of where we set contribution limits however, the agency responsible for monitoring our elections and who finances them must be able to get voters relevant information - who gives to whom, how much, and when - before the election, not two or four or six years later. That is the only way to ensure the integrity of our elections; that is what the FEC and Congress must ensure happens now.

If not, who knows how many Walt Roberts's may be walking the halls of Congress.


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