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Ethics Interpretations


In 1990 the Ethics Commission [the "Commission"] was created per Article XXIX of the Oklahoma Constitution ["Article XXIX"]. The Commission succeeded two statutory commissions. Former laws were codified at Section 4200 et seq. of Title 74 of the Oklahoma Statutes. The Commission was charged with adopting rules of ethical conduct for state officers and employees and state candidate and ballot measure campaigns. These rules are codified at Section 257:1-1-1 et seq. in Title 74 of the Oklahoma Statutes, Chapter 62, Appendix [the “Rules”].

The Commission is made up of five private citizens appointed by the Governor, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General. It employs seven full-time staff members who administer the constitutional duties, the Act and the rules to implement Article XXIX.

The Commission is the depository for registrations, designations of agent, campaign contributions and expenditures reports, and financial disclosure statements filed by state and county candidates, state officers and state employees, as well as registrations and reports filed by lobbyists. It assesses and collects late fees for documents not timely filed as required by the Act. It prosecutes complaints alleging violations of the Rules.

Ethics interpretations are provided for both in Article XXIX which reads:

The Ethics Commission may respond, pursuant to its rules, to questions of specific individuals seeking an interpretation of the Commission's rules governing ethical conduct for campaigns, state officers, or state employees. Any such official interpretation of ethics rules shall be binding on the Commission.

Article XXIX, Okla. Const. Section 5

and per the Rules which provide:

The Commission may, in its discretion and where appropriate, issue ethics interpretations pertaining to the provisions of this title when requested by any person or committee who may be subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission. Before issuing an ethics interpretation, the Commission shall announce its consideration of an ethics interpretation at a meeting of the Commission, provide interested persons with a copy of the request for the ethics interpretation with sufficient deletions to prevent the disclosure of the identity of the person or persons involved in the situations presented in the request for the ethics interpretation, schedule and provide notice of a hearing on the request no fewer than thirty (30) days after the announcement and accept both written and oral comments on the request at the hearing. At least five (5) days before the hearing, Commission staff comments and/or draft ethics interpretations shall be made available to the public for comment. Should the Commission determine that a request requires a response more quickly than the notice and hearing would permit, the Commission may issue a confidential “emergency opinion” without notice and a hearing, and such an emergency opinion shall apply only to the person making the request and shall be limited to the specific fact situation included in the request. Notwithstanding the issuance of such an emergency opinion, the request for an ethics interpretation shall be scheduled for notice and hearing, the same as any other request. If the ethics interpretation thereafter adopted is different than the emergency opinion, the ethics interpretation shall be given prospective effect. The Commission shall make all ethics interpretations issued available to the public within thirty (30) days of the date of issuance. Provided, failure of a person to request an ethics interpretation shall have no relevance in any subsequent proceeding under this title involving such person. Provided further, such interpretation shall be binding on the Commission in any subsequent proceeding under this title. The Commission shall publish its ethics interpretations annually; provided that sufficient deletions shall be made by the Commission in published ethics interpretations or ethics interpretations made available to the public to prevent the disclosure of the identity of the person or persons involved in the situations presented in the ethics interpretations. . .

Section 257:1-1-6(h)

The Commission is also authorized by the Political Subdivisions Ethics Act, 51 O.S. 2001, § 301 set seq. [“the Act”] to issue ethics interpretations. The statute reads:

The Ethics Commission shall . . . Issue ethics interpretations pertaining to the provisions of the Political Subdivisions Ethics Act when requested by any person or committee under the jurisdiction of the Commission and publish its ethics interpretations annually; provided, that failure of a person to request an ethics interpretation shall have no relevance in any subsequent proceeding under the Political Subdivisions Ethics Act. Provided further, such interpretation shall be binding on the Commission in any subsequent proceeding under the Political Subdivisions Ethics Act. Sufficient deletions shall be made by the Commission in published ethics interpretations to prevent the disclosure of the identity of the persons involved in the situations presented in the ethical interpretations; . . .

51 O.S. 2001, § 305(A)(6)

Questions pertaining to other Oklahoma Statutes, other provisions of the state constitution or the federal constitution or federal law cannot be interpreted by the Commission and must be referred to the appropriate authority.

Predecessors of the Ethics Commission—the statutory Oklahoma Ethics Commission and the Oklahoma Council on Campaign Compliance and Ethical Standards—were authorized to issue declaratory rulings [reconstituted as advisory opinions] and later advisory opinions. At its regular meeting on December 10, 1992, the Ethics Commission adopted and reconstituted former advisory opinions as ethics interpretations making all prior rulings of its predecessors binding on its subsequent proceedings.

Ethics interpretations are fact specific. They answer only the question or questions put forth in the underlying request. While they may shed light on other situations, they do not necessarily control them. To be binding on the future action of the Commission, the interpretation must be directed to the individual situation.

Ethics Interpretations are published with sufficient deletions to prevent identification of the person or persons involved in the situations herein described. The name of the requestor is confidential.