Commerce Study on Ethics Rules `Partially Off-Base'

Article excerpt

By Lou Anne Wolfe Journal Record Staff Reporter An Oklahoma Department of Commerce study on how proposed state government ethics rules might work a hardship on the agency is partially off-base, according to a response memorandum released Thursday by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

The commerce department published an analysis that showed certain cases where it said the proposed rules could hamper its ability to conduct business.

Legislation concerning the proposed ethics rules is set to be considered by a joint House-Senate conference committee, beginning Monday.

The commerce analysis stated concern about the definitions of "lobbyist principal" and "organization," as used in the rules.

Other commerce concerns involved a rule to forbid disclosure of certain confidential state information; a requirement to report all gifts received, down to a key chain or T-shirt; and the impossibility of tracing an Oklahoma business connection in some instances involving foreign corporations.

The ethics commission response, which included a cover letter signed by Executive Director Marilyn Hughes, said the rules define "lobbyist principal" as the entity in whose behalf a registered lobbyist influences or attempts to influence legislative or executive action.

The report said the commerce department mistakenly used a broader definition that would have been more confusing.

"The commission's staff publishes a monthly sheet of lobbyist principals," organized by employers and by names of the lobbyists, the report said.

"Hence, a brief look at these will make clear who falls within the purview of the proposed rules," the report said.

The commerce analysis contended that the term "organization" in the rules could mean a vast array of affiliations a person might have.

The commission report, however, said the rules use the definition contained in state law, which is shorter and more specific than the definition the commerce department based its complaint on.

Commenting on some terms contained in the rules that the commerce department took issue with, the report said: ". . .one is adapted from current law, one has been defined by DOC outside the rules, one is a broad misstatement of the rule definition and one is an attempt to evenly apply the law." The report said it was "apparent that many of DOC's criticisms pertain to conditions which are created by existing laws" enacted by the Oklahoma Legislature, rather than the commission. The report said those arguments had nothing to do with the proposed rules.

"If agency practices or proposed practices would violate current law, such certainly bear reviewing," the report said.

The commission report also addressed certain scenarios described by the commerce analysis to give examples of problems the rules could cause.

The commerce memo said reporting requirements in the ethics rules would force commerce business recruiters to display a regulatory, bureaucratic attitude, which would be misunderstood or offensive to foreign cultures. The behavior would appear anti-business to national business leaders seeking to locate in Oklahoma, the commerce memo said. …