Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Ethics Commission Decelerates on Proposal about Trips

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Ethics Commission Decelerates on Proposal about Trips

Article excerpt

OKLAHOMA CITY - After one member of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission said a proposed rule would be open to abuse, the board decided Friday not to move the amendment forward to the Legislature as written.

"In the guise of education, we are opening Pandora's box," said Commissioner Tom Walker.

The proposal would allow elected state officers and employees to accept scholarships, grants or subsidies - including costs for transportation, meals, lodging, entertainment and instruction - to participate in educational or training events sponsored by governmental, professional or business organizations.

Walker said such a proposal would be particularly problematic if the sponsoring group was an out-of-state organization not regulated by the commission.

"It will be sponsored completely with dark money, even with our reporting requirements," he said.

Commissioner Jo Pettigrew advocated for the amendment. She said officials and employees are taking more training courses than they did previously.

"I think in the long run it does more good than harm," she said.

Pettigrew suggested that the change, which would include a reporting requirement, be approved. If it does harm, she said, it can be amended or eliminated.

"I am also fearful of things like dark money," she said.

Walker said he would not be so opposed if the proposal was limited to employees.

"By opening it up to officers, the harm outweighs the benefit," he said.

Executive Director Lee Slater said that such events have been a growing practice in recent years. He told commissioners that such a rule proposal has been requested from both executive and legislative sources.

Organizations such as the National Conference of State Legislatures sometimes provide scholarships to legislative staffers to undergo training, he said.

Yet Slater acknowledged there is some potential for abuse.

Walker argued that the amendment as written is not limited to NCSL, the National Governors Association or similar groups.

"We're opening this up for junkets," he said. …

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