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FBI says straw donors backed others

By Tony Thornton and Nolan Clay Published: March 10, 2007
Several of the alleged "straw donors” to Dan Boren's 2004 congressional campaign also contributed heavily to Gov. Brad Henry and two other powerful politicians, records show.

The FBI in court papers Thursday identified 21 Boren donors as those who were reimbursed for their donations as part of an illegal scheme to finance Boren's campaign. The FBI alleged former state Sen. Gene Stipe and business partner Steve Phipps were behind the scheme.

Informants told the FBI the two men used straw donors to finance a number of political campaigns over a long period of time, according to court records. A straw donor is someone who gives with someone else's money. Agents did not disclose what other candidates allegedly benefited from such schemes.

However, campaign records show Henry, a Democrat, received $35,000 from nine of those named by the FBI as straw donors to Boren, mostly in January 2003 after Henry first won election as governor.

State Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan, D-Tecumseh, received $35,863.89 in cash and in-kind contributions from 15 of those people during his 2002 campaign, records show. One donor, accountant Rita Benson, admitted to The Oklahoman she was given money from Phipps for her donation to McMahan.

Former state Rep. Mike Mass received $15,000 during his 2004 state campaign from four of the same donors and $6,100 during his 2002 congressional campaign from eight of those donors. Mass is a Democrat.

FBI agents reported they had not uncovered any evidence yet that Boren knew he was receiving the illegal donations. Boren also said Thursday he was unaware.

Henry, through a spokesman, and McMahan also denied knowingly accepting straw donor money.

The governor was traveling Friday to Afghanistan. His communications director, Paul Sund, said in a prepared statement: "Like Congressman Boren, this is the first we have heard of the situation.

"No authorities have contacted us about the contributors in question, and we do not know if the accusations leveled against donors to Congressman Boren's campaign are applicable to other campaigns,” Sund said.

He said the governor received thousands of contributions in 2002 and 2006, "and his campaigns followed all state laws and ethics rules pertaining to political contributions. We are not aware of any problems in either campaign.”

McMahan said each donor to his campaigns in 2002 and 2006 was asked to sign statements that say in part, "This contribution was freely and voluntarily given from my personal property. I have not directly or indirectly been compensated or reimbursed for the contribution listed above.”

"When we get those, that's all we've got, other than their word,” McMahan said.

Mass could not be reached for comment. His home telephone was disconnected last year.

Edmondson donates contribution amount
Attorney General Drew Edmondson told The Oklahoman on Friday he voluntarily is donating $3,000 from his campaign funds to the state Ethics Commission because he had donations from Stipe and Phipps.

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Related Web document
FBI affidavit (PDF)

Rita Benson, an accountant and alleged straw donor, interviewed by Oklahoman reporter Nolan Clay
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Karla Hall, a banker and alleged straw donor, interviewed by Oklahoman reporter Nolan Clay.
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Clip 2

Gov. Brad Henry
Straw donors
Several of the 21 alleged "straw donors” to U.S. Rep. Dan Boren also gave to State Auditor Jeff McMahan in 2002, to Gov. Brad Henry in 2003 and to former state Rep. Mike Mass in 2002 and 2004. A straw donor is someone who gives with someone else's money.

To McMahan:

•Tim Arbaugh, Guthrie, $787.89.

•Rita Benson, Atoka, $3,200.

•Carol Coffman, Idabel, $3,000.

•Danita Francis, Stillwater, $2,500.

•Roy Hatridge, Wardville, $5,000.

•Tresa Johnson, Caney, $300.

•Lesa Lackey, Caddo. $300.

•Jeanette Lambert, Idabel, $3,000.

•Joycelin Maye, Idabel, $1,100.

•Betty Murphy, Kiowa, $600.

•Pat Payne, Antlers, $600.

•Brenda Phipps, Kiowa, $2,976.

•Steve or Brenda Phipps, Kiowa, $5,000.

•Melia Rose, Kiowa, $5,000.

•Larry Witt, Stillwater, $2,500.

To Henry:

•Coffman, $2,500.

•Francis, $5,000.

•Roy Hatridge, $5,000.

•Lambert, $2,500.

•Steve or Brenda Phipps, $5,000.

•Rose, $5,000.

•Kent Wilkins, McAlester, $5,000.

•Witt, $5,000.

To Mass' 2004 state campaign:

•Rex Hatridge, Wardville, $3,000.

•Roy Hatridge, $4,000.

•Lambert, $3,000.

•Steve Phipps, $5,000.

To Mass' 2002 congressional bid:

•Coffman, $1,000.

•Johnson, $400.

•Lackey, $300.

•Lambert, $1,000.

•Maye, $1,000.

•Murphy, $400.

•Brenda Phipps, $1,000.

•Steve Phipps, $1000.

Source: Campaign reports


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