WASHINGTON — Two organizations with scant public information available have purchased nearly $110,000 of broadcast television time in Oklahoma for “issue ads” that promote U.S. Rep. James Lankford without specifically endorsing his Senate campaign.
The ads, running in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa markets, are attributed to a group called the Foundation for Economic Prosperity. However, the public forms filed with television stations in Oklahoma City say the money for the ads was provided by the First Amendment Alliance Educational Fund.
There is no information about the Foundation for Economic Prosperity on the public websites of the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Election Commission. Two political committees with “economic prosperity” in their names were recently established under federal election rules by an Oklahoma City fundraiser and an associate. However, neither have reported any advertising expenses.
The First Amendment Alliance funded ads in the 2010 election cycle, but it has not filed reports with the IRS or Federal Election Commission for years and appeared to be dormant.
The ad running in Oklahoma City makes references to the 2010 health care law commonly referred to as Obamacare and says Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, voted more than 40 times to repeal, delay or replace the law. And it says Lankford “never wavers in preserving our constitutional liberties.”
It’s not clear where the First Amendment Alliance got the money to give the Foundation for Economic Prosperity, meaning two of the Republican candidates seeking to succeed Sen. Tom Coburn now are benefiting from secret donors.
A group called Oklahomans for a Conservative Future, which formed as a “social welfare” organization so it could keep its donors private, already has spent $435,000 on behalf of T.W. Shannon, the former state House speaker from Lawton.
Combined, the groups airing ads promoting Shannon and Lankford have spent more on broadcast time than the candidates themselves.
No comment from First Amendment
A phone number connected to the First Amendment Alliance Educational Fund is actually that of Koch and Hoos, a company located outside Washington, D.C., that helps candidates and nonprofit organizations navigate federal rules about political activity.
Tim Koch referred all questions about the First Amendment group to Anthony Holm.
Holm, whose phone number has an Austin, Texas, area code, sponsors a website in which he describes himself as a strategist, communications specialist, commentator and author. He was not interested in communicating or commenting on the First Amendment Alliance; Holm did not return phone calls or emails over the past week regarding the group.
The First Amendment Alliance registered with the IRS as a 527, an advocacy group that could sponsor issue ads but had to disclose its donors. The group was last active in the 2010 election cycle, according to IRS records, and has not filed a report since 2011. In 2010, the group reported donations from several energy interests in Texas.
The groups recently begun in the name of economic prosperity are both based in Oklahoma City, and one was formed by a fundraiser, Trey Richardson, whose company did work for Lankford in 2010.
Richardson filed an organization statement with the Federal Election Commission as treasurer of a political action committee called Fund for Economic Prosperity PAC.
Joel Riter, who says on his LinkedIn page that he works for a company at which Richardson is a managing partner, filed an organization statement with the FEC as treasurer for the Fund for Economic Prosperity Action; that group will be a so-called Super PAC, which can raise unlimited amounts of money from donors to fund political advertising.
Richardson and Riter did not respond to phone calls and emails requesting information about their groups and any potential connection to the Economic Prosperity Foundation.
TV agreements are less than revealing
Television stations are required to make public their contracts and agreements for ads for political candidates and issues.
The forms used for the agreements have space for the names of people in the organization sponsoring the ads. However, the only person listed on the Oklahoma City television station agreements is Betsy Vonderheid, who works at a Washington, D.C.-area media and consulting firm.
Vonderheid did not return a phone call Thursday seeking information about the ad.
And though the ad is clearly about Obamacare and just as clearly promotes Lankford, the agreements between Vonderheid and the stations stipulate that the ad doesn’t communicate a message relating to any political matter of national importance.