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Transparency Vs. Privacy: Ethics Commission Sparks Debate After Proposed Rule Change

Members of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission meet Friday in Oklahoma City.
Catherine Sweeney
The Journal Record
Members of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission meet Friday in Oklahoma City.

In this week's episode of the Business Intelligence Report, Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses a recent proposal by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, which, if approved, would allow the agency to begin controlling so-called indirect lobbying. A rule change that Ray says "has sparked a heated debate over the need for transparency versus the need for privacy."


Richard Bassett: You're listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Richard Bassett. With me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. Russell, good to speak with you again.

Russell Ray: It's good to be here, Richard. Thanks for having me.

Bassett: Catherine Sweeney's recent articleon the Oklahoma Ethics Commission covered the commission's proposed amendment that, if approved, would allow the agency to begin controlling so-called indirect lobbying. Could you give us the backstory on this and what the Ethics Commission wants to accomplish with this change?

Ray: Absolutely. This is a controversial rule change that has sparked a heated debate over the need for transparency versus the need for privacy. So there are campaigns for individual candidates and there are campaigns for legislative issues. The names of donors to candidate campaigns and the amount of money they are contributing must be disclosed to the public under state ethics rules. Donors to campaigns for legislative issues and their contributions are kept private. So some state lawmakers want to change that by requiring the names of donors and their contributions to specific legislative issues be disclosed to the public. So these types of campaigns are known as indirect lobbying efforts.

Bassett: So the proposed amendment would require any individual who donates money to such efforts disclose their personal information?

Ray: That's right. Indirect lobbying includes paid advertisements on all platforms. The hiring of lobbyists and any contribution exceeding $500 to advocate for or against legislation. The rule change would essentially mandate the disclosure of the donor's name, address, occupation, and employer. Critics of the amendment have, have a problem with that.

Bassett: During the most recent election cycle there were several commercials encouraging Oklahomans to vote one way or the other on the various state questions. But by the end of the ads, it was usually rather ambiguous as to who was trying to influence their vote. Is that an example of something proponents of this amendment would like to see changed?

Ray: Yes absolutely. In fact, that's the main purpose of the amendment. That is to provide more clarity to voters about the groups behind these legislative campaigns.

Bassett: So the critics of the proposed rule change say that if a private citizen wants to support a particular piece of legislation which may not be popular, their co-workers, neighbors, or whoever will be able to see that they did. Have proponents responded to any safety concerns or privacy issues raised by opponents?

Ray: Well no not according to our story. But you are right in that critics said the disclosure of names and addresses could have a chilling effect especially for people in the minority on a specific issue.

Bassett: So I'm curious what other concerns opponents may have, because according to Catherine's article Trent England, the executive vice president, of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs said more than 2,000 people have signed the group's petition against the rule change.

Ray: Well England said the measure was inappropriate because the Ethics Commission is designed to regulate public officials, not private voters, he said. And Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, criticized the measure as well saying, "Transparency is for government and privacy is for people."

Bassett: What's the timeline for a vote on this proposed amendment and if and when it could be implemented?

Ray: Well the commission decided to continue the hearing process on the rule before taking a vote. Members will meet for more public comment on January 25th.

Bassett: Russell Ray is the editor of The Journal Record. Thanks for your time today Russell.

Ray: My pleasure Richard, thank you.

Bassett: KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on The Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us on social media. We're on Facebook and Twitter @journalrecord and @kgounews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation and previous episodes of The Business Intelligence Report are available on our website KGOU.org While you're there you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact reporting team. For KGOU and The Business Intelligence Report, I'm Richard Bassett.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

The Journal Record is a multi-faceted media company specializing in business, legislative and legal news. Print and online content is available via subscription.

Music provided by Midday Static.

Richard is a graduate of The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Arizona. He spent three years working for Studiomedia Recording Company in Chicago, where he furthered his audio engineering education. After one too many battles with the snow and the cold, Richard returned home and enrolled in The University of Oklahoma. He has a bachelor's degree in anthropology and graduate study in Professional Writing.
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