Some complaints handled secretly, report shows

Sunday, April 6th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A widely publicized flap involving some of the gifts former Gov. Frank Keating accepted while in office resulted in secret decisions by the state Ethics Commission, according to a newspaper report.

The commission privately reprimanded Keating in a December 2001 letter for failing to report all his free trips and hotel stays as gifts to the state, The Sunday Oklahoman reported in a copyright story.

Also, the commission twice voted in 2001 to take no action on complaints about Keating's acceptance of more than $200,000 from New York financier Jack Dreyfus, according to records.

Both times, the votes were done in public only by case number. The governor's name wasn't mentioned.

All gifts to the state are supposed to be reported to the state Department of Central Services. A mistake involving Keating was uncovered during an Ethics Commission investigation into a fishing trip he took to Alaska in July 2000.

Democratic Party leaders complained the trip violated state ethics rules because it was paid for by an energy company, Conoco Inc. Keating, a Republican, said the trip was a chance to meet with business leaders and promote economic development in the state.

State officials are prohibited from accepting gifts exceeding $300 in a year from a lobbyist or the lobbyist's employer. The Ethics Commission found that Keating reported the fishing trip as a gift to the state, thus exempting it from the $300 limit.

Commissioners questioned whether Keating had reported all such gifts. Keating's general counsel, Judy Terry, subsequently reviewed the governor's schedules from October 1997 to April 2000 and found that eight gifts had gone unreported.

In its private reprimand, the Ethics Commission criticized Keating for shoddy record-keeping that "undermines confidence in state government."

The Dreyfus case involved money Keating had been given over a period of years. He described Dreyfus as a mentor and close friend, and said he used the money to pay for his children's education.

Keating returned $250,000 to Dreyfus in February 2001 after his acceptance of the money was disclosed in news accounts.

Records show the Ethics Commission voted April 20, 2001, and again Sept. 25, 2001, not to take action on complaints about the Dreyfus gifts, the Oklahoman reported.

At one point, commissioners questioned the need for such secrecy, particularly given the public interest in the story. Their advisers told them the original members of the Ethics Commission had "deliberated many hours the public's right to know weighed against protecting the reputation and careers of state officers/employees from sometimes specious charges."

The advisers also said the acceptance of the cash from Dreyfus didn't violate any rules, particularly because the gifts began long before Keating ran for governor.