Rinehart Should Resign

Oklahoma County Commissioner Brent Rinehart, who faces felony changes in connection with campaign contributions, should resign his position.

Image of Brent Rinehart

Obviously, Rinehart is presumed innocent, but he has been charged with serious crimes. He faces seven felony counts, including perjury, conspiracy against the state, and money laundering. He has also been charged with three misdemeanor counts of knowingly accepting a contribution to a political candidate through an intermediary with unlawful intent.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson recently charged Rinehart, his former campaign manager Tim Pope, and three donors in an alleged scheme to circumvent the $5,000 limit on 2004 campaign contributions. Edmondson alleges the donors gave the extra money to a political action committee operated by Pope, a former state representative, who then used the money directly in Rinehart’s campaign.

(A company operated by Pope recently paid a $3,000 fine for placing automated phone calls saying Oklahoma County Commissioner Jim Roth was advancing a homosexual agenda.)

Rinehart, who represents District Two, is a Republican, and he claims the charges are politically motivated, according to news reports. Pope is also a Republican. Edmondson is a Democrat who says the charges came after an investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Some people might try to blow this off as typical good ol’ boy politics in Oklahoma. For example, Oklahoma Ethics Commission Director Marilyn Hughes said Edmonson may have violated campaign ethics rules himself when he spent $500 of his campaign money on a golfing fundraiser for Auditor Jeff McMahan, according to news reports. Rinehart and Pope could try to use this information to argue the charges against them are politically motivated. But to argue that Rinehart’s charges and Edmondson’s situation are equivalent is disingenuous.

Here are three reasons why Rinehart should step down:

(1) These are serious felony charges that will shadow Rinehart as he conducts official county business. This is not good for the county, the Oklahoma City area, or the state. Everyone who does business with him—county employees, companies, other county officials—will know he faces charges. How can he conduct daily county business with people who know he might be forced soon to leave office? Will his decisions have meaning or impact?

(2) Rinehart’s decision to stay in office despite the seriousness of the charges could generate national attention and get defined as yet another Okie political scandal. The state has a sordid political history when it comes to its county commissioners. During the early 1980s, more than 200 people were convicted in one of the nation’s worst public corruption scandals. Most of those convicted were county commissioners who took kickbacks.

(3) The charges against Rinehart make the current, stormy political situation in the county government even more volatile and unpredictable. Since taking office, Rinehart has become a somewhat controversial figure in the county. By some accounts, he has hostile relationships with Roth and Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel.

If he’s acquitted or if the charges are dropped, then Rinehart can certainly have the last word and demand redress and official apologies. But, for now, he should make the gracious move of stepping down.

For the good of everyone in Oklahoma County and the state, Rinehart should resign.