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Ethics panel shortchanged, again

By John Raley Published: May 16, 2008
In "Ethics panel clearly a winner” (Opinion, May 3), state Rep. Guy Liebmann indicated the Legislature is perplexed as to why members of the state Ethics Commission aren't celebrating our appropriation. He mentioned an increase of 30 percent over last year, amounting to "the largest ever.” That's correct on one count — since the Ethics Commission has never received any but bare cost increases, any percentage would be the largest.

The $150,000 increase this year includes a $50,000 earmark for filing software that we did not request, do not want and that would destroy the ability to track aggregate totals — a key element in Oklahoma's campaign disclosure law. In short, one-third of our funding would waste taxpayer money and distort data.

Eliminate that earmark and our 30 percent increase is only 20 percent — a figure that must be seen in context of the 17-year history of this chronically underfunded agency. We calculate the current appropriation as approximately 1

percent increase per year. What other agency has been limited to that?

Our appropriation doesn't permit a single additional employee. From inception, we required 10 workers. We were given seven. That has never changed, despite our workload having increased substantially. For instance, in 1992 we oversaw 331 state campaigns. In 2006, that figure was 594.

The commission now conducts far more complex investigations, owing to an ever-increasing influx of money into state races. This requires a subpoena of bank records and review of hundreds of checks. We have only one investigator to do this. If we had more investigators — as the agency has requested each year — and an additional employee, we could handle more prosecutions. Is this why we never get these employees?

Our appropriation has never permitted our staff merit raises.

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