It doesn't take long to find contributions that appear suspicious while combing through campaign finance reports.
That certainly appears to be the case for three elected members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. A months-long investigation by CNHI Oklahoma found each of the three commissioners have accepted more than $200,000 from employees, subsidiaries or political action committees with ties to companies they regulate.
But one cannot make a case for corruption based solely on appearance or a potential conflict of interests. With all the money sloshing around in politics these days, it is likely there are more conflicting interests among the donors of a campaign than there are between a candidate and his or her donors.
What raises our eyebrows is the decision by commissioners to keep secret the companies that hijacked public utilities during Winter Storm Uri this past February. These companies reportedly increased natural gas prices from $2 or $3 per MMBtu to as much as $1,200 MMBtu.
Oklahomans saw their heating bills increase nearly $4.5 bilion during the extreme winter weather event that dumped snow and ice across 26 states. Temperatures tumbled into the deep freeze and remained there for several days.
Corporation commissioners, who regulate the public utilities and the oil and gas industry, will decide who will pay the additional costs of fuel used to generate electricity during the winter storm and how it will be paid. They declined to publicly disclose the identities of companies that hiked the prices of fuel, but appear more than willing to pass along those costs to consumers.
Commissioners recently approved a rate increase for Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. customers by more than $700 to cover that utility's fuel costs for Winter Storm Uri, which total $748.9 million. OG&E customers will pay their shares out during the next 28 years, chipping in $2.12 on top of their monthly bill -- decisions will be made for the customers of other utilities during the coming weeks.
A joint report published in November by North American Electric Reliability Corporation and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found "anecdotal evidence" of natural gas price gouging during Winter Storm Uri. Federal regulators plan to closely examine that issue.
Consumers must not be left in the dark while this inquiry is made. Commissioners should lift this shroud of secrecy and avoid the appearance of impropriety.