Two weeks ago I wrote about what seemed to be a smear campaign against Steven Dow, a forceful commissioner in the Oklahoma Department of Human Services who agitated for investigations into a series of deaths of children who were wards of the state and under DHS supervision. Dow was issued a public reprimand by the state’s Ethics Commission for alleged conflicts of interests related to his position as the unpaid director of a social service agency while he was simultaneously serving as a commissioner at DHS. His agency’s contracts with the DHS were tiny, and when they were brought up at the department, he recused himself from those discussions. Last Friday, in the state’s first-ever reversal, the Ethics Commission withdrew its public reprimand of Dow, citing newly discovered evidence that the alleged ethics violation was “inadvertent.”
As I wrote previously, the initial Ethics Commission action looked bogus because it was hard to see Dow’s motive:
The basis of the reprimand from the Oklahoma Ethics Commission was that there was a conflict of interest with Dow serving on DHS because he is also the unpaid director of Community Action Program (see page 8), a Tulsa non-profit serving the low-income community.
Over nine years it appears that CAP has received about $1.5 million in DHS contracts, or 0.5 percent of its revenue (see CAP’s contracts with DHS here). That said, I’m not convinced that Dow ever had an incentive to seek personal enrichment from his DHS service. After all, his wife, Tracy Schusterman, is one of the richest people in Oklahoma. She recently sold her family’s business, Samson Energy, to KKR for $7.2 billion. Nevertheless, following the public reprimand, Dow decided to resign.
Dow avoided any possible conflict of interest prior to beginning his tenure as DHS commissioner and even notified the governor’s office directly about his position at the social service agency. From the Oklahoman: