The chairman of Oklahoma's powerful regulatory agency is facing questions about how he spent leftover campaign funds.
Since August of 2015, Corporation Commissioner Todd Hiett has made monthly rent payments using his 2014 campaign fund, totaling more than $32,000.
The payment descriptions in state campaign finance reports have evolved since they began. In 2015 rent payments are described as “lodging,” changing to “office/lodging” in 2018 before being called “office lease” in 2020 reports.
“My campaign’s CPA and I work diligently to abide by the ethics rules,” Hiett said in a statement. “The legal counsel we conferred with believes it is an appropriate expenditure.”
According to a 2001 Oklahoma Ethics Commission ruling, it would be “…an inappropriate use of surplus campaign funds for a statewide officeholder to pay rent…”
“I have to be at the state Capitol complex for my job, but I live in Kellyville near Tulsa, and I do not receive any per diem,” Hiett said.
Kellyville is 85 miles from Oklahoma City. Lawmakers from in the state House and Senate can use campaign funds for rent if they live more than 100 miles from the Capitol. The ethics report said that is because lawmakers are required to maintain residency in their home district.
“The Commission distinguishes that from one of a statewide officeholder, who is not required to live outside the Capitol area,” the ethics ruling said.
“Maintaining a second year-round residence in Oklahoma City is undoubtedly practical under these facts and a wonderful convenience,” the 2001 ruling said. “Acquiring a condominium for this purpose can always be done with personal funds. But the Commission finds that moving to the Capitol city is reasonable for a four to six year term of office.”
State campaign finance rules were overhauled in 2015, however rent payments into 2020 were made from Hiett’s 2014 campaign committee, still subject to pre-2015 rules.
A 2020 reelection campaign committee was launched on March 9 of 2020.
The Republican regulator is facing Libertarian Todd Hagopain in November’s election for another six-year term to the commission.
“We’ve been open and transparent in reporting these expenses in the past and will continue to be transparent in the future, and follow the guidance of the ethics commission,” Hiett said.