More than $2 million has flowed from Oklahoma companies, tribes and wealthy individuals to national political groups such as the Republican Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association.
Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp. has given $900,000 to those types of groups in the current election cycle, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service. The Chickasaw Nation has contributed $360,000 since January 2009.
The Oklahoman examined contributions of $5,000 or more to the organizations, which are called 527 groups after the section of federal tax code under which they are organized. The tax-exempt organizations can accept unlimited amounts of money from companies, unions and individuals.
The 527 groups are limited in how they spend contributions on political campaigns and issues. They cannot make direct contributions to candidates, but they can run ads, make phone calls or do other political activities.
Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, said many companies feel more comfortable contributing to groups that will make independent expenditures in political campaigns. Companies also are trying to blunt the effects of similar spending by labor unions.
"They are the only form of political actor out there who faces an economic sanction for political action from customers," Gaddie said. "If you get too political as a corporation, you face consumer boycotts, and you can lose customers."
Gaddie pointed to retail giant Target Corp., which recently gave $150,000 to a group backing a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota who opposes gay marriage.
The company soon faced boycotts and protests by groups supporting gay rights.
Labor unions don't face the same type of backlash for their contributions because their members expect a certain level of advocacy, Gaddie said.
Devon Energy made contributions to the Republican State Leadership Comjmittee ($350,000) and the Republican Governors Association ($300,000).
The company also contributed $250,000 to American Solutions for Winning the Future, a 527 group founded by former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Chip Minty, a spokesman for Devon, said the company's donations are based on candidate records and groups that support job growth and a healthy business environment. Minty said Devon's political contributions are a small part of the overall spending by the company, which has annual revenue of almost $9 billion.
"We think it's our responsibility as a publicly traded company, a major employer and a partner in communities where we operate to be engaged in conversations about energy policy," Minty said. "If we're not doing that, then we're going to have to answer to our shareholders about that."
Across town, Chesapeake Energy Corp. has been more subdued in giving to 527 groups this election cycle. The Democratic Governors Association reported a $25,000 contribution from Chesapeake in May. Company spokesman Jim Gipson said Chesapeake also plans to give a similar amount to the Republican Governors Association.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, stopped in Tulsa last week to raise money for Mary Fallin, the GOP candidate for Oklahoma governor. The association raised more than $58 million since January 2009, according to IRS filings. The Democratic Governors Association raised $40.2 million during the same period.
Gaddie said upcoming redistricting battles in several states are helping drive contributions to the governors associations. There are gubernatorial races in 37 states this year. Governors play key roles in redistricting state and federal electoral districts in most states.
"The more governorships you control, the better position you're in to ensure that your party doesn't get totally jobbed during redistricting," Gaddie said.
Other companies with Oklahoma ties giving to both the Republican and Democratic governors associations include Marathon Oil Co. and Noble Energy Inc.
The Chickasaw Nation gave more than $133,000 to the Democratic Governors Association and $125,000 to the Republican Governors Association. The tribe also contributed $100,000 to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said the tribe supports a variety of individuals and organizations involved in the political process.
"A working government-to-government relationship is integral to achieving our mission of enhancing the overall quality of life of Chickasaw people," Anoatubby said in a statement.
Individuals, companies and labor unions have different limits on contributions to political groups depending on how the groups are set up and how they use the donated funds: