In February, Oklahoma City attorney Lee Slater will take the helm of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. His appointment is a significant step to return that troubled agency to public respectability and increased effectiveness.
The agency is in charge of monitoring campaign finance reporting and investigating ethics complaints against public officials. Lawmakers and candidates have long complained clarity was lacking at the agency. A candidate requesting agency guidance could reportedly receive conflicting advice from different staff members or even the same individual at different times.
The agency had problems with ethics investigations. Last year, the commission reprimanded Department of Human Services' board member Steven Dow for doing unpaid work for an entity receiving some DHS funds, then reversed course — but only after Dow had resigned and the damage was done. Budget shenanigans redirecting money to employee pay raises instead of operational needs enhanced the agency's reputation for managerial incompetence and self-dealing.
Slater is uniquely qualified to right this ship. His legal work focused on campaign finance and ethics issues, and he previously served as head of the Oklahoma Election Board. Slater enjoys widespread, bipartisan respect.
Slater believes it's time to review the Ethics Commission's rules, noting that many have been in place 20 years. That process will streamline and modernize regulations, fostering clarity. He rightly notes a person reading the rules should be able to easily understand how to stay in compliance. Slater says advice from his office must be consistent. He notes that the agency's electronic campaign donation reporting system needs updating and improvement.
Those are promising first steps. Financially, Slater would have been better off staying in the private sector; taking the ethics job is a true act of public service. We're optimistic his tenure will result in an Ethics Commission that's efficient, transparent, evenhanded, nonpartisan and, most of all, ethical in its operation.