Following the Senate passage of House Bill 1953 on Tuesday, Sen. John Sparks said his successful amendment of the proposal marked a victory for transparency in state government. The bill establishes the Oklahoma Quick-Action Closing Fund, an economic development tool that would enable the Governor to use public funds to provide companies with a financial incentive to relocate to Oklahoma or expand existing facilities.
Sparks, a co-author of HB 1953, amended the measure on April 27 to require that companies not be involved in independent expenditures intended for political purposes for a specified period before and after the acceptance of an award from the fund. The amended proposal was approved by a vote of 42-3.
“Though the Closing Fund will be an effective economic development tool, I believed it was important we guarantee transparency in the process,” said Sparks, D-Norman. “The public is rightly suspicious of programs which enable large sums of their money to change hands without transparency. Although the amendment was somewhat weakened, I believe it will be effective in reducing any suspicion of impropriety.”
The amendment would not hinder employees from making political contributions, and is limited to corporate entities or partnerships. The prohibition would apply for a twelve-month period preceding and a five-year period following the receipt of an award from the Quick Action Closing Fund. The length of the prohibition ensures it covers each gubernatorial election cycle.
Sparks noted Governor Rick Perry of Texas last year came under fire when it was discovered more than $16 million had been awarded from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to companies with officers or investors who in turn made significant contributions to Perry’s reelection fund. This discovery resulted in a prominent and distracting investigation, casting widespread public doubt on the fairness and legitimacy of the technology fund.
“The success of similar economic development tools makes it important that we keep pace,” Sparks said. “However, controversies in other states have clearly illustrated we can craft a better, more legitimate plan. I believe we’ve done so today.”