The legislative session is behind us and sadly, the Oklahoma Legislature failed to pass meaningful ethics reform. Regardless of what you may have heard, the so-called ethics reform that passed and received the autograph of the governor was little more than window dressing. It failed to accomplish that which Oklahomans deserve and demand.
The constitutionally protected Oklahoma Ethics Commission received increased funding during this past session, but part of that was earmarked to pay for software to upgrade and maintain existing computer filing systems (fortunately, the governor vetoed portions of the bill). What is discomforting here is that the Ethics Commission is independent from the Legislature, but dependent upon it for funding. Rep. Ken Miller was rather proud of the fact that the Legislature increased funding for the Ethics Commission to the tune of a whopping 30 percent. Yet, it barely scratches the surface as to what is really needed for the office to function in a manner worthy of the taxpayers of Oklahoma.
The Ethics Commission is overworked, understaffed and tasked with the difficult undertaking of investigating those who hold the purse strings of its budget. Of course the Legislature would never, under any circumstances, refrain from fully funding the Ethics Commission to increase efficacy. The Tooth Fairy told me as much during a meeting with Santa Claus, Bigfoot and the Seven Dwarves.
Here are a few cost-effective ethics reforms that would make a significant impact and perhaps reduce the financial and emotional burden on taxpayers.
First, attorneys should be banned from contributing to the campaigns of judges they practice before. Forget the "tort reform" mantra of the "chamberservatives" " my new term for Republicans who would much rather please the chamber than their constituents " if legislators were serious about judicial reform, that's the place to begin.
Second, elected officials shouldn't be able to transfer campaign funds from one account to a new account. This has become a favorite practice of many elected officials who desire to stay on the government payroll.
Third, there should be no cap on individual campaign contributions. However, any individual campaign contributions exceeding $5,000 should require immediate and full disclosure, just as "last minute" contributions are reported presently.
Fourth, open ballot access. Competition is a good thing, right? Well, bring it on! Pay your filing fee and you're on the ballot! When there are more than the two parties involved, incumbents will have to pay closer attention to their constituents, won't they? OK, maybe not.
The year 2009 should be the time for hard-core ethics reform in the state of Oklahoma. We have very important statewide races barreling down the tracks in 2010, and the taxpayers of Oklahoma deserve reform that accomplishes something beyond campaign rhetoric.
The voters of Oklahoma could impose the strictest of all ethics reform this November if we so choose. We simply vote out every single incumbent. But, I digress.
Black is a consultant living in Edmond and founder of Wild Oklahoma TV & Radio. He was the 2007 Oklahoma Rifle Association Media Award winner.