OKLAHOMA CITY — Pressure is mounting on the Legislature to overturn a veto of a measure that seeks to require financial disclosures for any gubernatorial appointees to agency director or cabinet secretary posts.

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s veto of Senate Bill 1695 comes as state, county and federal entities are looking at how his administration spent millions of dollars, said Emily Virgin, D-Norman, House minority leader.

Her statement didn’t identify any specific probes, but she noted that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the state auditor, the U.S. Office of the Inspector General and the Oklahoma County district attorney are all looking into decisions made by Stitt appointees.

“These investigations show the need for Senate Bill 1695,” Virgin said. “It is disappointing that Gov. Stitt would use his power to stop legislation that increases government transparency. Despite what the governor’s office says, the decision before Gov. Stitt was whether or not to increase transparency this year. He chose not to.”

Virgin said it is incumbent on legislators to override the veto and put “transparency safeguards in place.”

In his veto message, Stitt said the bill would have required statements for his appointments, but would have exempted disclosures for similar positions appointed by the Legislature, boards or commissions. He argued that most gubernatorial appointees are subject to the Senate confirmation process.

“I would urge the Legislature to revisit this topic and pass legislation that subjects all state officers — whether elected, appointed or subject to a retention election — to the same set of financial disclosure requirements,” Stitt said. “This would include, but not be limited to, agency directors and certain state officers elected by boards or commissions and those appointed by the Legislature.”

The measure passed the House and Senate unanimously.

State Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, who authored the measure, said he spoke with a Stitt administration official ahead of Stitt’s veto. He said there were concerns that such disclosures could tie Stitt’s hands as he tries to recruit “superstars” like the state’s commerce secretary. He said Scott Mueller agreed to work for the state for free for two years and has had success bringing in businesses.

“I think it will limit the governor from recruiting talented people from working with him,” Murdock said.

But Murdock said he filed the bill because he had constituents questioning whether the governor or Department of Corrections officials benefited financially from the decision to close a state prison in Fort Supply.

“I had numerous constituents asking if the governor was making money, was he or anybody in DOC invested in private prisons,” Murdock said.

Murdock said as a lawmaker he is required to fill out a financial disclosure every year so taxpayers can see what he’s invested in.

“This would give reassurance to Oklahomans that the decisions being made by the governor’s appointees are not for self-benefit,” Murdock said.

He said he doesn’t foresee an effort this year to override Stitt’s veto, but plans to work with him next year to craft similar legislation that would increase transparency as his constituents have demanded while not tying Stitt's hands in recruiting top-notch talent.

State Rep. Carl Newton, R-Cherokee, the House author, said he appreciates that Stitt wants to make transparency more widespread, but “personally would have rather seen it pass and then add the others as a bill, but that was his prerogative.”

“We need to be transparent to our constituents,” he said. “And so I think that’s one of the ways that we can make sure that government is being transparent.”

Newton said he’s heard some people discussing attempting a veto override, but perhaps the best way forward is to bring a more widespread measure back next year.

In a statement, Joel Kintsel, who is running against Stitt for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, said the bill would have brought greater financial transparency to all of Stitt’s appointees.

Kintsel said Stitt’s reasoning that it does not go far enough is “convenient.”

“As a starting point, some transparency would be better than none at all,” Kintsel said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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