The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

August 30, 2013

Oklahoma Ethics Commission seeks clearer rules

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Rules governing state candidates, campaigns and officers are seriously out of date, officials with Oklahoma Ethics Commission said Friday.

At an informal hearing in Enid, one of two the commission held this week, Executive Director Lee Slater said some of the rules adopted by the commission over the past two decades are even contradictory.

The Ethics Commission came into existence after a 1990 vote of the public. Since then, Slater said, there has been no wholesale review of the agency’s rules. Instead, policies have been implemented in a piecemeal fashion, which has led to confusion among those who must follow them. Even attorneys and the Ethics Commission’s own staff, he said, have trouble interpreting what the rules mean.

“We’ve got two subsections in the ethics rules, one that follows the other — they’re mutually exclusive,” Slater told the small group of public officials and attorneys who gathered Friday for the hearing. “We discovered that when somebody called to ask a question about it.”

Sometime next week, Slater expects to make public the first draft of rules changes dealing with administration and enforcement.

“Those, I hope, will be the least controversial,” he said. “If they’re not, then we’re in for a very long next several months.”

Through December, the commission also will introduce revised rules dealing with financial disclosure, ethical conduct of state officials, conflicts of interest and lobbyist regulation.

Campaign finance rule changes will be posted about the first of November.

The proposals will be considered by the commission in time for the next regular legislative session in February. If the Legislature takes no action, they would become effective in time for the final months of the 2014 election cycle.

At the informal hearing, Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, recommended the commission make campaign finance reporting a more simple process, with quarterly due dates standard — even during election years.

“If you’re on the ballot, it becomes a weird filing-date period. I think that is something that would be better if we did quarterly reports, even if it was an election year or not,” Anderson said. “Many of us have volunteers that help us as our campaign treasurer and they’ve got other jobs, so it’s difficult for them to understand. It’s easy for other things going on for us to miss the date. And the last thing you want is an ethics complaint filed against you because you were a day late getting a report filed.”

He also suggested limiting the amount of contributor information a campaign makes public.

“My suggestion there is letting us put ‘Patrick Anderson, Enid, Oklahoma,’ and making that sufficient for the address,” he said.

The reasoning is that donating to a campaign and making home addresses part of the public record opens the door to a flurry of donation requests from other groups.

“That bothers people. I don’t know if giving the street address where they live is crucial,” Anderson said.

Another issue Slater raised is clarifying rules for campaigns — particularly those of term-limited legislators — to more easily disperse surplus funds from their war chest.

“I think it’s going to be a continuing problem until we find a solution for it,” Slater said.

Among the campaign donation proposals Slater is drafting would ease rules that limit how much spouses can contribute. Currently, members of the same family cannot have more combined contributions to a campaign than an individual can, a total of $5,000.

“My belief is the per-family requirement is probably unconstitutional. I personally do not like the per-campaign rule,” Slater said.

Instead, he plans to introduce a “per individual, per election” contribution limit.

The new rules also likely will include training sessions for campaign treasurers, and possibly certification.