Oklahoma Ethics Commission sues state for underfunding
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s watchdog agency has filed a lawsuit accusing lawmakers of failing to provide adequate funding.
The Oklahoma Ethics Commission filed the lawsuit Tuesday asking the state Supreme Court to force the Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin to provide appropriation from the general revenue fund as required by law so that the agency can perform basic duties.
“Underfunding the commission has become the norm,” said Jan Preslar, the agency’s general counsel. “However, at this point it is clear the Legislature is trying to starve the commission and render it ineffective.”
Preslar alleged lawmakers may be retaliating against the agency because of new gift restrictions, among other issues. The commission oversees and enforces rules governing state campaigns and rules of ethical conduct for state workers.
The agency’s fiscal 2019 appropriation is insufficient by just more than $2.6 million, according to the lawsuit. The appropriation that was made to the commission came from the agency’s own revolving fund made up of fees, the lawsuit said.
The fiscal year beginning Sunday is “an extremely busy election year, with the most campaign committees registered with the commission in history,” the filing stated. “Sufficient resources to undertake review of campaign reports and enforcement of the commission’s Ethics Rules will be critical to fulfillment of the commission’s constitutional responsibilities in fiscal year 2019.”
The seven-member commission requested in the lawsuit that justices order Fallin to convene a special session to make a sufficient appropriation to the agency from the state’s general revenue fund.
“I’ve met with the chairman of the Ethics Commission and the agency’s executive director in hopes to find a resolution to their concerns,” Fallin said. “This adversarial approach will make it more difficult to find common ground with the Legislature.”
House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, both Republicans, have declined to comment.