Anthony planted in role as guardian against corruption
Saturday, July 26th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Bob Anthony sees himself as uniquely qualified to be the guardian against corruption as one of three members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
In an interview, Anthony spoke of his privileged upbringing, education and experience as head of the C.R. Anthony Co. clothing store chain, and the desire for public service that led him to seek public office.
Anthony said he was most proud of the honesty he brought to the ratemaking agency, while rejecting criticism of his doggedness in some utility rate cases.
"There's too many people in awe of the power structure" who have condoned corruption in high places, the 55-year-old official said.
"I don't apologize to anyone for having the position that, gee, we're going to follow the law. We're going to put crooks in jail," he said.
His station in life, he said, has given him a measure of independence. "I can take it or leave it but I also can talk back to anybody I want," he said.
In Anthony's eyes, the Oklahoma Constitution contains "black-and-white" instructions for commissioners to make sure utility rates are fair and reasonable.
"Making the money right for the utility ratepayers is my constitutional duty," he said.
Anthony was thrust into his anti-corruption role, he says, when he first ran for the commission post in 1988 and a utility company representative gave him a political donation of $1,000.
He said the man handed him an envelope containing a list of five names "like I'm supposed to pretend that they came from five people for $200 and shouldn't be reported."
He told U.S. attorney Bill Price, a high school friend, about the donation.
Anthony's first term produced a thunderbolt revelation that he had secretly recorded a bribery attempt in his office for the FBI in a case involving Southwestern Bell, now known as SBC.
It was one of scores of recordings he made that led to federal convictions and prison sentences for a sitting corporation commissioner and a telephone company lawyer -- the same one that gave Anthony the $1,000 in 1988.
As late as last month, Anthony still was trying to keep the Bell case alive, pointing to arguments that a bribed vote could not produce a valid commission order.
"Why did I do that? Because I think public corruption is important," he said. "And I think it's sad in Oklahoma that so many people don't seem to care about it."
Turning toward his administrative aide Larry Lego, Anthony said: "Larry, you need to calm me down," then he went on to blast his critics.
Among other things, Anthony said a state Chamber of Commerce official who accused him of hurting economic development ignored the fact that businesses benefit from fair utility rates.
A stickler for details, Anthony objects to his being portrayed in news accounts as an FBI informant or an undercover agent in the Bell case, preferring the term, "cooperating witness."
"I wore a necktie and a shirt," he said. "I didn't pretend to be a commissioner. That's not undercover. They gave me money because I was a commissioner."
In 1995, the FBI recognized Anthony with its highest award given to a citizen who "at great personal sacrifice, has unselfishly served his community and the nation."
Anthony says his chances for higher office may have been hurt by his actions, but in 2000, he won re-election with 66 percent of the vote.
A Republican in a Democratic state, Anthony said he got a disproportionate amount of votes from Democrats.
"Is being against bribery a Democratic or Republican position?" he asked.
Anthony came to the commission with an education pedigree that included a bachelor's degree from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania and masters degrees from the London School of Economics, Yale and Harvard.
He is a former Oklahoma City councilman who at age 32 succeeded his grandfather and father as the third president of now-defunct C.R. Anthony Co.
"There are few people in the state of Oklahoma who have had the advantages and the wonderful life that I've had," he said.
His penchant for honesty, he said, came from his experience in the retail clothing business.
"If you're going to have a successful store, you've got to have one eye on the front door and one eye on the back door.
"You'd better know your business. Better know the facts and the costs, the operation, every minute of the day. You've got to be on top of things. And it's the same thing in state government," he said.
He extols the importance of strong ethics. "You know, you need to have a clear understanding: We do this and we don't do that. If the employer takes a necktie off the rack and wears it and doesn't pay for it, the employees are going to figure that out. And they're going to figure if he does it, I can do it.
"In other words, it starts at the top. If the commissioners don't behave properly; if they've got lobbyists in their rooms, with the doors closed, that's not right."
Anthony said political corruption does not exist as it once did at the commission, saying he considers fellow Republican Commissioners Denise Bode and Jeff Cloud and former GOP Commissioner Ed Apple all to be "money honest."
But he expressed concern for more "subtle" influences brought to bear on the governmental process through political donations and other spending.
"It's not the outright bribery, it's the stuff in the gray area," he said.