A school board candidate for Tulsa Public Schools is receiving support from a political organization her husband formed. 

The group Support Tulsa OK Kids Education was formed on March 16 by retired Tulsa attorney Ken Malloy, who is school board candidate Maria Seidler’s husband, Oklahoma Ethics Commission records show. The Frontier obtained a mailer the group paid for that advocate for the defeat of Seidler’s opponent Sarah Smith. The same mailer also opposed board candidates John Croisant and Calvin Moniz.

Tulsa OK Kids Education is registered with the Ethics Commission as an unlimited committee. Such groups are sometimes referred to as Super PACs. The groups cannot donate directly to candidates but can raise and spend unlimited funds independently advocating for or against candidates. Super PACs, whether at the federal or local level, are also not allowed to coordinate political activities with candidates they support, and can result in criminal charges against candidates and those running the groups.

Both husband and wife denied coordination between her campaign and his Super PAC. The connection between Malloy’s efforts and his wife’s candidacy was first reported by The Tulsa World.

Super PACs and nonprofit dark money groups are often used to hide the true source of their funding from voters and have played an increasingly prominent role in Oklahoma’s and the country’s elections since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized those types of groups and campaign spending in the 2010 Citizens United decision.

Asked whether she knew who was behind Tulsa OK Kids Education, Seidler said she only knew what was on the mailer the group sent out. She told The Frontier to reach out to her husband.

“We’ve been very, very careful. All I know is he’s in the group because we’ve been very careful not to have communications,” Seidler said. “We barely talk about any of this.”

Maria Seidler. Courtesy

Support Tulsa OK Kids Education didn’t report paying for the mailers to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission or the Tulsa Public Schools board clerk, which collects campaign finance reports for school board races. State ethics rules require that independent expenditures made within two weeks of an election be reported within one business day.

Malloy said he wanted to be as transparent as possible about the group and its aims. He chose to list his own contact information on mailers, despite being advised to make the group more opaque to public scrutiny, 

“We are not dark money. We are not trying to hide anything,” Malloy said.

Asked why he felt the need to form a Super PAC rather than sending donations to the candidates themselves, Malloy said most candidates don’t want to be associated with negative ads, so Super PACs do that for them. The Support Tulsa OK Kids Education mailer featured a picture of a pair of hands in handcuffs and warned about the impact of poor education on crime and the economy.

“All three candidates wanted positive messages, and we thought we needed a message that helped people understand that it isn’t just people who have kids in the public school,” Malloy said, “we needed people to understand that the crime rate is affected by the public schools, property taxes are affected, business development is affected.”

Seidler and Malloy have taken an active role in Tulsa educational issues over the past few years. 

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Incorporation records show Malloy, Seider and her daughter Jessica Bailey formed a nonprofit corporation called Legal Overwatch for Parents School Rights Inc in July 2022, though the organization has not yet been granted tax-exempt status by the IRS, records show.

Legal Overwatch has represented numerous parents pro bono who have sued or made complaints against Oklahoma school districts, including Tulsa Public Schools, on a variety of issues, such as demanding that certain books be removed from school library shelves, suing over alleged religious discrimination at school board meetings. It has also sued on behalf of parents banned from school property.

A second education-focused nonprofit Malloy co-founded in August 2023, Northstar Project, Inc., performed school board candidate surveys and issued a whitepaper about Tulsa Public Schools’ standing compared to other districts. Malloy said he and the other Northstar founders saw an opportunity to shake-up the Tulsa school board when three of the seven board seats came up for election this year. 

Malloy said he also helped form another education-focused group named TPS Rescue Coalition, which bills itself as a school reform organization and sent out mailers requesting people volunteer to run for the open seats. The group also issued an “Independence Scorecard” for the candidates in the three upcoming Tulsa Public Schools board races. The group, which is run by Seidler’s daughter, rated Seidler as “Verified Independent” while giving her opponent Smith a rating of “Likely Beholden to Special Interests.”

TPS Rescue Coalition lists former state Attorney General John O’Connor, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready, Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado, former legislators Mike Mazzei and Pam Peterson and Grand River Dam Authority board chairman Charles Sublett as members of its board of reference.  But the group is not an actual registered corporation or a corporate trade name, Oklahoma Secretary of State records show.

Malloy confirmed to The Frontier that the group is not an actual corporate entity.

“We haven’t felt the need to do that yet,” he said. “The only mailer that TPS Rescue Coalition has been involved with is a mailer that let all three districts know that there was a need for candidates in an upcoming election. We sent out about 5000 mailers, and said, if you’re interested in running for school board, we would encourage you to do that.”

TPS Rescue Coalition’s website features a donation page, but donations are directed to Women Working for Oklahoma, a state-registered political action committee.

That group also helped raise funds for the Support Tulsa OK Kids Education Super PAC, Malloy said. Malloy said the group has raised about $6,000, all from Oklahoma donors.

Malloy said most of the candidates opposed Support Tulsa OK Kids Education have impressive campaign war chests compared to their opponents, and institutional backing from education contractors and teachers unions.

When Northstar sent out requests for volunteers to run for the school board seats, no acceptable candidates from district 6 volunteered to run. So Seidler decided at the last minute to run for the seat, Malloy said. 

“That created a problem for us because we had to create a separation between any work that I did with Northstar, with TPS Rescue Coalition or any funding mechanism we were going to use for candidates,” Malloy said. “I don’t get involved in her campaign and she doesn’t get involved in anything related to Northstar.”

Malloy said he doesn’t worry if the arrangement draws scrutiny from the Ethics Commission or other officials because he hasn’t done anything wrong.

“We’d be happy if regulators looked at it, because I’m very familiar with the coordination rules, and we have been scrupulous in making sure we didn’t violate them,” Malloy said.

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