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Oklahoma companies, tribes donate millions to national political groups

BY PAUL MONIES Published: August 29, 2010

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.

Local contributions

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.

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Political contributions

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:

Political action committees: These are organized by people with similar political philosophies to make contributions to candidates, parties or causes. Most PACs represent businesses, labor or ideological groups. They are not allowed to accept direct contributions from companies or labor unions, but they can contribute funds to candidate campaign committees. State and federal laws limit the amount of contributions to PACs from individuals or other PACs.

Internal Revenue Service 527 groups: Tax-exempt groups set up for political activities, including voter mobilization and issue advocacy. They can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations or labor unions, but they can't donate those funds directly to candidates.

Source: Center for Responsive Politics


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