Black money campaign hits race for state auditors | Government and politics
Someone is spending a lot of money to prevent State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Bird from winning a second term, and no one can say for sure who it is.
Records show independent TV spending for Steven McQuillen, Bird’s only opponent in a June 28 Republican primary to decide the entire race, of at least $280,000 and possibly as high as $680,000 .
Additionally, at least three statewide shippers, each of which could cost up to $100,000, have come out to support McQuillen or oppose Byrd.
The money spent on McQuillen’s behalf seems unlikely to be out of enthusiasm for him personally. Several better-known Republicans, who asked not to be identified, said they were approached to run against Byrd and declined, despite promising money would not be an issue.
Byrd can’t say for sure, but she thinks she has a pretty good idea of who’s behind the anonymous campaign.
“I believe most of the black money used against me in this race came from the founders of Epic Schools in retaliation for my office audit which revealed their plan to take millions of dollars from the funds of education of our students,” Byrd said in a written statement.
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“I stopped the flow of taxpayer funds that line the pockets of bad actors, so they come after me,” Byrd said.
In fact, a wall of nonprofit organizations and 501(c)(4) political action committees, some with ties to a nonprofit named in a lawsuit filed last week by the Oklahoma Ethics Commissionprotects the identity of donors.
Calls left on the cellphones of Epic founders Ben Harris and David Chaney were not returned on Thursday. Neither was a call to Fount Holland, a prominent Republican consultant whose company appears to have produced the mail pieces.
In some of the letters, McQuillen promises to “protect our southern border”, stop “the CRT in our schools” and “stop the indoctrination of gender identity in our schools” – none of this the competence of the auditor and the State inspector.
Black money and independent spending is not unique to the race for auditors, especially in the era of Citizen’s United and the Internal Revenue Service’s reluctance to enforce laws limiting nonprofit involvement. for-profit 501(c)(4) in politics.
Millions were likely spent by black money groups attacking Governor Kevin Stitt. This week, a group called the Oklahoma Conservative Patriots Alliance disclosed $561,000 in ad buys against Stitt and supporting lead GOP opponent Joel Kintsel.
A Washington-based PAC named the School Freedom Fund, apparently aligned with the school choice movement, spent $625,000 in Oklahoma’s Republican legislative primaries. On the other side, a group called Oklahoma’s Children, Our Future, is spending at least $300,000 to oppose Stitt’s chosen state superintendent, Ryan Walters.
But auditor and inspector races rarely, if ever, attract that kind of attention, financial or otherwise. Unlike other offices such as the Companies or Insurance Commissioner, it has no natural donor base and voters often ignore candidates.
Byrd’s 2018 campaign cost less than $140,000. She reported less than $90,000 in contributions this year, and McQuillen reported none.
A final pre-election report is expected next week.
Retired from a mid-level administrative position with Tulsa Public Schools, McQuillen doesn’t appear to have campaigned much or been widely known. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in commerce from Oklahoma Wesleyan University, but is not a chartered accountant, according to the state board of accountancy directory.
Legally, the job only requires “at least three years of experience as a public accountant” — but the most recent state auditors are chartered accountants.
McQuillen did not respond to phone messages.
Byrd said she was convinced he was a “strawman”.
An ethics commission filing shows Oklahoma City-based Truth PAC purchased $280,596.60 in television time for McQuillen earlier this week. He has earmarked more than $680,000 in airtime, but it’s unclear if any of that is for the Verifiers and Inspectors campaign.
Records show Truth PAC was established on June 9 with Matthew Parker as president and treasurer. Parker is a Fount Holland business partner.
The filings do not show the source of the $280,000.
The shippers are stamped with Holland and Parker, CAMP, and the name “American Values First” and a Tulsa address which is a box in an office supply store.
American Values First is the name of a federal SuperPAC based in Washington and operated by Joel Riter, a well-known Republican agent who was mentioned in the Ethics Commission lawsuit against the conservative Alliance PAC, which is accused of failing to file required disclosures during the 2018 state election and unlawfully coordinating its advertising with at least one candidate.
The Conservative Alliance and Washington-based American Values First received large transfers from a 501(c)(4) named Prosperity Alliance, which is known as a political contribution transfer that allows donors exceed federal contribution limits while maintaining anonymity.
Prosperity Alliance has been accused of violating IRS rules that limit 501(c)(4) political activity.
Oklahoma-based Pioneer PAC, which is chaired by Glenn Cosper, a Moore attorney with education connections, is also contributing to the federal American Values First program this year.
American Values First is not registered with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and its filings with the Federal Election Commission show no independent spending in Oklahoma.
Byrd’s 2020 report on Epic after an audit ordered by Governor Kevin Stitt documented what she ultimately called “the greatest number of reported abuses of taxpayers’ money in the history of this state.”
The audit fed into the ongoing investigation by several agencies.
It also fueled animosity towards Byrd by individuals and groups connected not only to Epic, but to what is widely known as the school choice movement.
Statements from lawmakers during the legislative session this spring indicated that the Epic audit was likely a factor in the failure of a sweeping voucher bill favored by Senate Pro Tem Speaker Stitt. Greg Treat and other influential individuals and organizations.
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