A brouhaha came up last week over political campaign materials being distributed through the Sallisaw Nutrition Center’s Meals on Wheels program.
Meals on Wheels is a government-funded program. It receives federal and state funds, plus it resides in a building owned by the City of Sallisaw and is administered by the County Commissioners along with the Eastern Oklahoma Development District.
Normally, campaign material cannot be posted or distributed in a government building. Have you seen campaign signs in a government office or received campaign literature with your tax bill? No, you haven’t.
So when the Oklahoma Ethics Commission told State Rep. John Bennett that he did not break the law when he distributed literature, cups and wristbands at the center and with trays going to meals on wheels recipients, it made no sense to us.
The Ethics Commission said no laws were broken “because it is not a state-run business or a state-run agency.”
Maybe their focus on what laws they were reviewing was a little narrow.
How is it that People, Inc., the non-profit that held Monday’s candidate forum is not allowed to have campaign material on their property, but meals on wheels can be a vehicle to distribute campaign literature?
Something is not adding up.
During the 2010 Oklahoma legislative session, there was a huge fight between Democrats and Republicans over funding when the state Department of Human Services directors slashed the program drastically and unexpectedly by $7.4 million in late 2009. It took then State Sen. Kenneth Corn (D-Poteau) camping out on the steps at the Capitol, but Democrats were ultimately able to secure $5 million to keep some Nutrition Centers in the state from closing.
In March of this year, the Nutrition Center in Watts was closed because of further federal budget cuts resulting in a loss of $24,000 to the program.
According to our story in March, the Nutrition Center serves about 352,000 meals per year in its three-county area, 90,000 of them in Sequoyah County including meals delivered to residents in Gans, Roland, Muldrow, Vian and Gore.
The Title III federal funding provided about $954,000 to this year’s $1.88 million budget for the Sequoyah, Adair, and Cherokee Counties.
Everything about the meals programs is funded, in one way or another, by government money from one level to another.
The ruling makes no sense.