Oklahoma Ethics Commission seeks new executive director after Kemp resigns citing poor resources

By: - August 30, 2023 5:15 am

The Oklahoma House legislative chamber sits empty. The head of the Ethics Commission has accused lawmakers of underfunding her agency. (Photo by Kyle Phillips/For Oklahoma Voice)

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission is searching for a new executive director after the current agency head announced she will resign by the end of the year due to a lack of state funding. 

In tendering her resignation, Director Ashley Kemp accused legislators of underfunding her state agency, which she said made it difficult to enforce ethics laws.

The Ethics Commission writes and enforces rules for state employees and elected officials — including legislators —  and oversees state political campaigns and lobbyist spending. 

Although the Ethics Commission sought a funding boost this year, the Oklahoma Legislature kept agency appropriations flat at $687,950, where funding levels have remained since fiscal year 2021.

In her resignation letter, Kemp said the Legislature has hamstrung the Ethics Commission’s enforcement abilities by refusing to adequately fund the watchdog agency. 

“With the record budget year in Oklahoma for FY 24 there seemed every reason to expect an investment in the Commission to restore its education program, build upon its administrative compliance program, and devote resources to combatting the increased and exponential use of ‘dark money’ in Oklahoma campaigns,” Kemp wrote.

“Unfortunately, that did not occur.”

Kemp Resignation 2023.1 (1)

In a budget hearing earlier this year, Kemp told lawmakers the agency had evidence of groups violating state campaign finance laws but lacked the funding to prosecute bad actors. Kemp asked for a nearly $400,000 funding boost.

A search committee comprised of Kemp and two current and two former Ethics Commision members will vet candidates, according to a news release.

Applications will be accepted through Sept. 15. The director is required to have a law degree and maintain an active license to practice in the state. 

Kemp, who will resign Dec. 31, has served as the agency’s executive director since 2016.

The Ethics Commission, which will appoint Kemp’s successor, is a five-member board. Its members are appointed by the governor, attorney general, Senate president, House speaker and Oklahoma Supreme Court chief justice. 

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Carmen Forman
Carmen Forman

Carmen covers state government, politics and health care from Oklahoma City. A Norman native, she previously worked in Arizona and Virginia before she began reporting on the Oklahoma Capitol.