Governor's business-connected staff won't have to file disclosures
Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt's staff, which will include several individuals with close business ties, will not be subject to personal financial disclosures, following new state ethics rules that recently went into effect.
"The former rules required (a disclosure form) from all state employees who were involved in state policy," said Ashley Kemp, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
"But part of the problem was figuring out how do you determine who fits into that criteria of being involved in state policy?"
In 2015, state ethics rules were changed to require personal financial disclosures only from elected officials.
Stitt will be required to file a personal financial disclosure within 30 days of taking office.
Financial disclosure forms were filed for several members of Gov. Mary Fallin's staff, but the same forms won't be required from members of Stitt's administration.
Stitt, who founded Tulsa-based Gateway Mortgage Group LLC, ran on his business experience and has tapped the private sector for many of his staff and cabinet appointments.
On Monday, Oklahoma Watch reported that Stitt is asking the attorney general to review his personal plan to step away from his mortgage company as it applies to become a bank, along with reviewing a conflict-of-interest policy for his family investments.
Like himself, several members of Stitt's office will come directly from the private sector, including John Budd, a former executive at Sonic Corp., whom the governor-elect recently hired as his chief operating officer.
Sean Kouplen, chairman and CEO of Regent Bank in Tulsa, was selected by Stitt to be his Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development.
Kouplen said he will keep his banking job and will not accept a state salary.
Kenneth Wagner, who is Stitt's pick for Secretary of Energy and the Environment, comes from the Environmental Protection Agency and is a past business partner of former EPA director Scott Pruitt.
Unlike Stitt, none of those individuals will be required to list their financial interests.
“The governor-elect has gone to great lengths to separate himself from a company he built from the ground up and to reassure the public there is not a conflict of interest," said Donelle Harder, Stitt's spokeswoman. "He will be holding his staff to high standards and ensuring those on his team are working with the mission to serve all 4 million Oklahomans.”
Kemp, the executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, said the former requirement for disclosure forms led to more than 4,500 reports being filed. It was a large amount of paperwork for staff to handle, and it was rarely requested by members of the public or media, she said.
The governor's staff will still have to disclose any money or scholarship received to attend a public policy-focused event that is not paid for by the state, according to Kemp.
Andy Moore, executive director of Freedom of Information Oklahoma, a nonprofit group promoting open government, said he hopes Stitt's own proposal to bring transparency is an example for his staff, even if they don't have to file similar disclosures.
"It will be the governor who needs to set the tone for his staff and hold everyone accountable," Moore said.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story indicated John Budd was still employed at Sonic Corp. His last day of employment at the company was Dec. 31, 2018.