The Oklahoma Ethics Commission passed a rule barring elected officials and agency heads from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving their positions. It’s the same rule lawmakers rejected during the 2018 legislative session.
The rule, which was passed during a public hearing on Sept. 15, is meant to prevent conflicts of interest in state government. But some lawmakers argued the Ethics Commission had overstepped its constitutional authority.
“They were promulgating rules that dealt with private citizens, which was beyond their scope,” said Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, who authored the resolution opposing the rule, which passed 64-27.
The commission is enshrined in Article 29 of Oklahoma’s constitution, which charges it with regulating “the ethical behavior of elected officials and some state employees.”
The commission’s executive director, Ashley Kemp, refuted Jordan’s claim during the Sept 15 hearing.
“The rules last year were reviewed by the Attorney General’s office,” Kemp said. “The Attorney General’s office didn’t have any concern about the ability of the commission to engage in this type of rulemaking.”
Rep. Tom Gann, R-Inola, one of the 27 House members in favor of the rule, also spoke at the hearing.
“I believe a promise for future employment to a legislator during their service in the legislature and upon immediate departure from the legislature by an organization that lobbies them creates a situation of self-serving interests and possible undue influence,” Gann stated.
Gann said his support for the rule comes from his private sector experience in auditing. “Cooling off periods” or “revolving door prohibitions” are not uncommon in state government. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all but nine states impose such restrictions.
It will be up to the new state legislature to decide whether to keep the rule when it convenes in 2019.
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