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Outside groups make ad push in final days of campaigns

Helped by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporate and union independent spending on political races, outside groups have spent $1.2 million on Oklahoma campaigns in the last few months.
BY PAUL MONIES Modified: November 1, 2010 at 5:55 pm •  Published: October 31, 2010

Outside political groups have spent more than $1.2 million in the closing weeks of the Oklahoma elections, with Republican gubernatorial candidate Mary Fallin the biggest beneficiary.

Groups as varied as individuals, business associations and companies have bought commercials, newspaper ads and direct mail, hoping to push their favored candidates or issues as many voters began paying attention to November's races.

The messages, called independent expenditures or electioneering communications, have been legal for a number of years. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed companies and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on those types of independent political messages.

Among the biggest spenders in Oklahoma have been national groups such as the Republican Governors Association and the Republican State Leadership Committee. The Republican Governors Association spent $438,000 on television ads calling Fallin's opponent, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jari Askins, "too liberal" for Oklahoma and tying her to President Barack Obama.

Oklahoma companies, tribes and individuals contributed more than $2.2 million to the Republican Governors Association since January 2009, according to an analysis of filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

The Republican State Leadership Committee spent $150,000 in mid-October on television ads supporting Scott Pruitt, the GOP candidate for attorney general.

Court decision prompts groups

A local group, the Senate Majority Fund, began operations in late August. It has spent more than $117,000 on TV commercials, radio ads and direct mail to support GOP Senate candidates or oppose their Democratic opponents.

"We've got a group of several people, some who have previously served in elected capacity and some like me who are volunteers, that want to help promote conservative Oklahoma values," said Chip Dudley, chairman of the Senate Majority Fund. "We formed this entity and we've had some professionals help us raise money so we could try to influence some races and support the things we believe in.

"The Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. FEC, is what paved the way for these types of expenditures."

Meanwhile, The State Chamber spent more than $66,000 on ads for several legislative candidates. It also spent $90,000 on independent expenditures to support State Question 752, which would add two nonattorney members to the state's Judicial Nomination Commission.

Fred Morgan, president and chief executive officer of The State Chamber, said the independent expenditures are just the latest effort by the chamber to develop a "pro-business" legislature. The chamber is involved in developing a voter education and outreach program called the Prosperity Project.

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Independent expenditures

Several outside groups have spent money on independent expenditures or electioneering communications in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's election. Among the biggest spenders through Friday:

1. Republican Governors Association: $438,000

2. The State Chamber: $157,000

3. Republican State Leadership Committee: $150,000

4. Republican State House Committee: $136,000

5. Senate Majority Fund: $117,000

Source: Oklahoma Ethics Commission

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