Dark money groups spend tens of thousands of dollars leading up to Oklahoma runoff races

Dark money groups with ties to Oklahoma business interests are injecting tens of thousands of dollars into key state legislative races.

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The Oklahoma Capitol BRIANNA BAILEY/The Frontier

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Roxanne Pollard is running against incumbent Rep. John Enns, R-Enid. Enns is term limited. 

Dark money groups with ties to Oklahoma business interests are injecting tens of thousands of dollars into key state legislative races leading up to the August 28 runoff election.

While political action committees must disclose their donors, dark money groups, which include social welfare groups, trade associations and unions do not.

The 501(c)(4) social welfare group Energy Engaged Inc. is spending $22,000 on phone canvassing in support of five Republican House candidates leading up to the runoff primary, according to an independent expenditure report filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

Energy Engaged shares the same mailing address as The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association and includes OKOGA President Chad Warmington as a board member, according to tax documents.

The group first attracted notice  in 2017, when it ran newspaper ads thanking state lawmakers who voted against a bill to raise taxes on oil and gas production in the state.

A 2017 newspaper advertisement sponsored by the dark money group Energy Engaged Inc. FACEBOOK

“Energy Engaged is a pro-growth social welfare organization dedicated to improving our economy,” Warmington said in a statement. “Taxpayers deserve, and we are committed to providing, fact-based information concerning public policy matters that affect the paystubs of hard-working Oklahomans.”

Employees of Devon Energy Corp. and Chesapeake Energy Corp. were also listed as board members for the group in 2016, according to its most recent publicly available tax return.

Incumbents facing challengers in runoffs backed by Energy Engaged include Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy; Rep. Travis Dunlap, R-Bartlesville and Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando, according to an independent expenditure report filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

Other candidates supported by Energy Engaged include Brad Martin, an insurance company executive from Edmond, who faces Nicole Miller in a Republican runoff election in House District 82, an open seat. Energy Engaged is also supporting Republican gun store owner Jay Steagall, of Yukon, for House District 43, also an open seat. Stegall faces Crystal Duncan in a runoff race.

The social welfare group Catalyst Oklahoma Inc. has so far spent $16,000 on digital advertising in support of four GOP candidates in runoff races.

A Facebook ad in support of Rep. John Pfeiffer paid for by Catalyst Oklahoma Inc. FACEBOOK

Candidates backed by Catalyst include Dunlap; Pfeiffer; Roberts and Martin.

The chairman of Catalyst is listed on tax forms as Charles Sublett, a member of the conservative think tank Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs board. Catalyst’s 2015 tax forms list OCPA as a related nonprofit, but not in subsequent years.

A Facebook ad in support of Rep. Sean Roberts paid for by Catalyst Oklahoma Inc. FACEBOOK

David Autry, a spokesman for OCPA, said there was no relationship between Catalyst and OCPA.

A tax preparer previously listed Catalyst as a related nonprofit because of because of the shared board member, but there was no legal reason to do so, Autry said.

The wind energy advocacy group American Wind Action is spending more than $21,000 on digital ads and direct mail support of two Republican candidates in runoff house races.

The pro-wind group is spending in support of farmer and rancher Trey Caldwell, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Jeff Coody, R-Grandfield in House District 63.

American Wind Action is also supporting Roxanne Pollard against Denise Crosswhite-Hader in House District 41, an open seat. 

American Wind Action is the advocacy arm of the trade group the American Wind Energy Association said in 2016 that it would begin to devote 40 percent of its seven-figure budget toward state and federal congressional races in support of pro-wind candidates.

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Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey grew up in Idaho. Oklahoma is her adopted home. Bailey has covered issues ranging from Oklahoma's strained child welfare system to the slow decline of Oklahoma's rural hospitals. She has walked all the way across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to south via Western Avenue and once via the old U.S. Route 66. Her hobbies are baking and crashing meetings she isn't invited to attend. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Oklahoma. Email her at brianna@readfrontier.com
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