The governor's husband, an attorney, may do legal work for the state's largest university or represent the state's workers' compensation agency, the state Ethics Commission ruled Thursday.
The interpretation of the ethics rules by commissioners was unanimous.
It mirrors an opinion released two months ago by the state attorney general's office.
Gov. Mary Fallin asked for both reviews.
When Fallin took office this year, her husband, Wade Christensen, had already resigned from the law firm he had been with for nearly 20 years and started his own practice.
He plans on continuing with his current practice, Christensen & Associates, a spokeswoman for Christensen said Thursday.
Christensen, who specializes in workers' compensation cases, said earlier he branched out on his own because clients for his previous law firm, Day, Edwards, Propester & Christensen, included the University of Oklahoma and CompSource Oklahoma, the state's workers' compensation agency. He wanted to avoid claims of favoritism or a conflict of interest.
Legal work allowed
Ethics commissioners determined that the state's ethics rules do not prohibit Christensen from providing legal services to either CompSource or OU.
“My number one priority is to ensure that all of the work that we are doing, or might do in the future, is legal and ethical in every regard,” Christensen said. “I am happy to say that today's ethics decision allows my firm to resume work with two important clients, OU and CompSource Oklahoma.”
The earlier attorney general's opinion states that the state constitution prohibits a governor's spouse from receiving any payment from public funds, but CompSource does not receive public funds. Public funds that OU receives don't come directly from the state budget prepared by the Legislature, according to the opinion.
The governor is involved in budget discussions and could veto budget plans, but the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education determine how money from the lump-sum budget amount appropriated by lawmakers to higher education is allocated to OU.
After the attorney general's opinion, Fallin instructed her legal staff to review ethics rules and interpretations. The governor's office also asked for an interpretation of rules from the Ethics Commission.
“Throughout this process, the goal of both Gov. Fallin and Mr. Christensen has been to go above and beyond both the spirit and the letter of the law to ensure that Mr. Christensen's legal work does not represent either a conflict of interest or the appearance of one,” said Alex Weintz, Fallin's communications director. “Today's ethics decision indicates that goal has been met, and that Mr. Christensen is free to resume his legal work with both CompSource and OU.”
Christensen has been a practicing attorney in Oklahoma for the past 27 years. Until this year, he represented CompSource for 17 years and OU for about five years.
In another case, ethics commissioners issued an interpretation that states agency heads may serve on a board of directors for private, for-profit Oklahoma companies as long as that company isn't doing business with the agency.