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Douglas' campaign contributions from regulated companies scrutinized

Tim Farley / Red Dirt Report
Patrice Douglas is feeling the heat as RDR continues to seek answers from her and her campaign.
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DEL CITY, Okla. -- U.S. congressional candidate Patrice Douglas has accepted more than $117,000 in campaign contributions from employees and executives connected to utility and oil companies that she regulates as a state corporation commissioner, federal election records show.

Douglas, appointed to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission in 2011 by Gov. Mary Fallin, will face retired Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell in the Aug. 26 Fifth District Republican runoff. Russell was the top vote-getter in the June primary election that featured six GOP candidates.

The FEC records show Douglas accepted campaign contributions from top executives at OG&E, Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Enable Midstream, Sandridge Energy, Continental Resources, PSO, American Energy Partners and several others that are regulated by Douglas and two other corporation commissioners.

The contributions, which range from $250 to $2,600, were part of a report that lists all financial donations from January 1 to June 30.

When Red Dirt Report asked about the contributions Friday at a Del City political forum, Douglas said, “I’m really not interested in talking to you,” and then left the Del City Community Center with a campaign staff member. Prior to that, Douglas’ campaign was contacted three times for this story, but did not make the candidate available for an interview.

A state-by-state review of ethics laws shows 38 other states and the District of Columbia require state officeholders to resign their position before seeking a congressional seat. In addition, 10 states prohibit campaign contributions from entities that have matters before state panels such as the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Those states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Although the campaign contributions are legal, questions have been raised about the ethics of accepting money from people and companies that are regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

“Voters in our country become disillusioned when we see example after example of government officials abusing their offices for political and personal gain. Our prayer is to have leaders who represent us with selfless service by putting our country before themselves,” said Philip Jackson, senior policy advisor for Russell’s campaign.

However, it’s not just Russell’s campaign that is showing disdain for Douglas and her questionable ethics.

PSO customer Ronda Vuillemont-Smith is upset Douglas hasn’t recused herself from a PSO Smart Meter case that is currently before the corporation commission. According to Vuillemont-Smith, Douglas has accepted several thousand dollars in campaign contributions from utility companies including PSO and OG&E.

The FEC records show employees and executives at OG&E and PSO have contributed $17,495 to Douglas’ House bid. Some of the most generous utility executives have come from OG&E, including attorney William Bullard ($1,000), President and Chairman Peter Delaney ($2,600, $1,400 and $500), Vice President for retail energy Jesse Langston ($1,000), engineer Jean Leger, Jr. ($1,000) and executive Paul Renfrow ($2,000).

PSO executives who donated to the Douglas campaign are Steve Fate ($245) and Stuart Solomon ($1,500).

Vuillemont-Smith contends the PSO case should be delayed until commissioner-elect Todd Hiett takes office in January. Hiett, a Republican, was elected to replace Douglas who opted to seek the U.S. House seat instead of running for re-election as a commissioner. Hiett defeated former lawmaker Cliff Branan in the June primary. No Democrats filed for the post.

Douglas’ most recent FEC filing shows campaign contributions of $637,742, including $51,000 from political action committees. Two of those committees are the OG&E Employees PAC ($3,500 in cash and $1,000 in-kind donation) and the Action Committee for Rural Electrification ($2,500).

PSO customer Howard Houchen, of Hugo, claims Douglas’ action of accepting utility company contributions “at best is ethically questionable. At worst, it’s downright wrong.”

“You don’t need a degree in political science to see this isn’t right,” Houchen said. “It’s patently wrong and I believe she knows it. It certainly smacks of some character flaws.”

Vuillemont-Smith said she’s also outraged that Douglas initiated a plan that allows the Corporation Commission to meet twice a week in public session compared to its former schedule of five times a week. The plan was approved in February by a 2-1 margin with Commissioner Dana Murphy casting the dissenting vote.

“She (Douglas) wanted that to happen so she could spend more time campaigning for Congress at taxpayers’ expense,” Vuillemont-Smith said.

Oil and gas contributors

Some of Douglas’ biggest donors come from Oklahoma’s largest industry – oil and gas. According to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s web site, its mission in terms of oil and gas is to “provide information, permitting, investigation and compliance services to the oil and gas industry, mineral interests, landowners and the general public so together we can develop the oil and gas resources of the state in a fair and orderly manner while protecting the environment and ensuring public safety.”

However, not every citizen can afford to contribute as much money as Sandridge Energy President and Chief Executive Officer James Bennett or Continental Resources Chief Executive Officer Harold Hamm.

Bennett gave the Douglas campaign $2,600 while Hamm donated $2,400 in cash and provided an additional in-kind contribution totaling $1,575, FEC records show.

Other prominent donors to the Douglas campaign include Aubrey McClendon, owner of American Energy Partners ($2,600); oil and gas producer Mike McDonald ($2,000); Larry Nichols, Devon Energy chairman ($5,200); Charles Bowen, CEO and chairman of ATC Freightliner Group ($2,600); Connie Burnett, Devon attorney, ($1,500); Brian Gonterman, AT&T president, ($1,500); Jennifer Grigsby, Chesapeake Energy executive, ($2,000); Blu Hulsey, Continental executive, ($1,000); Jerry Hunter, CEO of USFleet Tracking ($2,600).

A large portion of Douglas’ campaign contributions have come from executives and employees associated with large corporations, records show. Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Douglas.

A complete list of any congressional candidate’s donors can be found at www.fec.gov

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Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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