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
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.
"Prior to Citizens United, the business community was allowed to use corporate funds for issue advocacy but not for candidate advocacy," he said. "Citizens United opened up the opportunity to direct independent expenditures to candidates, and we did take advantage of that."
The money for the independent expenditures came from the dues of chamber members, Morgan said.
None of the independent expenditures or electioneering communications can be coordinated with candidate campaigns, said Marilyn Hughes, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Unlike political action committees, most groups sponsoring independent expenditures do not have to register and file contribution reports with the Ethics Commission. However, they do have to file disclosure reports within 24 hours after spending money.
Generally, independent expenditures include a call to action to support or oppose an issue or candidate, Hughes said. Electioneering communications can mention candidates but don't advocate their support or defeat.
The groups paying for independent expenditures do not include the National Education Association, which has contributed more than $3.2 million to help pass State Question 744. Those donations went to the Yes on 744 political action committee, which wants to see per-pupil education funding in Oklahoma raised to at least the regional average.
Political action committees are allowed to make independent expenditures. For example, the Republican State House Committee has spent almost $136,000 in the last week on independent expenditures for 10 House GOP candidates in close races.
Some individuals also spent money on independent expenditures, according to Ethics Commission filings. Among them were Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, who took out more than $19,000 in ads supporting State Question 744 in newspapers. Trae Gray, a Coalgate trial lawyer, spent almost $850 on newspaper ads supporting Askins and incumbent state Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant.
Gray, who handles many eminent domain or condemnation cases on behalf of landowners in southeast Oklahoma, said he likes both Fallin and Askins. But Gray doesn't want to see Republicans in charge of both the Legislature and the Governor's Mansion.
"I think it's real important that we maintain some balance," said Gray, who also serves on the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission. "That's the primary reason I was supportive of Sen. Gumm and (Lt.) Gov. Askins. This was the best I could do to fight back against what I perceive to be a lot of money thrown in by the Republican Party right now."
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