The state Ethics Commission is investigating the association that regulates high school athletics, The Oklahoman has learned.
Commissioners voted unanimously March 14 to investigate the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association for alleged violations of lobbying disclosure rules.
The maximum penalty for a willful violation of those rules is a $50,000 fine.
Commissioners acted after The Oklahoman reported March 9 that the OSSAA has provided free football and basketball playoff tickets to legislators for years.
The OSSAA has not reported those gifts to the Ethics Commission, records show.
Such an association is supposed to have its lobbyists report every six months any “thing of value” given to a state official costing more than $10. The OSSAA has used lobbyists since 2011.
OSSAA oversees extracurricular activities for nearly every public school in Oklahoma for grades seven through 12. It makes decisions on the makeup of athletic districts, playoffs and student transfers and eligibility.
The investigation comes at the same time the association is under fire both at the Capitol and in the courts. Critics say it has acted arrogantly, arbitrarily and capriciously in enforcing its rules.
At issue in the investigation is who is to blame for not reporting the gifts to the Ethics Commission.
Lobbyists Vickie White Rankin and Terry Ingmire both told The Oklahoman they never were informed the OSSAA gave away tickets to legislators. They worked for the OSSAA from 2011 through 2013.
Both lobbyists went to see Lee Slater, the Ethics Commission’s executive director, and told him the same thing.
Ed Sheakley, the OSSAA executive director, insists the lobbyists were told.
“I do not agree that you and Terry were unaware of the distribution of playoff passes to legislators,” he wrote Rankin on March 28.
“Shortly after OSSAA contracted with you in February 2011, I informed you that OSSAA distributed playoff passes to legislators, and I asked you if there were any problems continuing with that long-standing practice. You said you would check on that. You called me back and said that you had checked and that we did not have any problems continuing to offer playoff passes to legislators.”
Sheakley also wrote, “I don’t want any friction to develop between us in this regard. ... We have not withheld any information from you, and we want to help make sure that any reporting obligations you may have had can be fulfilled.”
Under its present rules, the Ethics Commission cannot disclose whom it is investigating while the probe is underway.
Last week, Slater told The Oklahoman, that because of those rules, he could not confirm or deny the OSSAA is being investigated.
Ethics commissioners met Friday but took no further action on the alleged violations.
The OSSAA executive director also declined last week to comment on the probe even though the confidentiality requirement does not apply to someone under investigation.
In an email Friday, Sheakley said, “OSSAA believes that the state Ethics Commission has sound reasons for maintaining confidentiality as to whether or not the commission is conducting any particular investigation.
“OSSAA also deals with situations on occasion in which it would be unfair or improper to comment on whether or not an investigation is underway or is contemplated. OSSAA hopes that other individuals and organizations will recognize and respect the reasons for maintaining confidentiality in certain circumstances.”
The president of the OSSAA board of directors is Todd Steidley, the principal at Claremore High School.
Asked about the Ethics Commission investigation, the principal said, “Mr. Sheakley and the attorney, they’re dealing with that. I just don’t feel comfortable discussing that.”