Editor’s note: This story is part of a series examining the political donations brought in by Oklahoma politicians
Lobbyists, the oil and gas industry and the health care sector have contributed nearly $1 million to Markwayne Mullin’s U.S. Senate campaign since 2021.
Mullin’s campaign had pulled in roughly $3.6 million in contributions by Oct. 19, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Comparatively, Democratic challenger Kendra Horn has raised $1.6 million.
As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Mullin sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees health care, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Mullin is also part of subcommittees on health, the environment and climate change, and communications and technology.
Mullin accepted donations from groups that have lobbied on issues like drug pricing, data security and changes to FDA processes. Lobbyists representing pharmaceutical companies, social media platforms, energy companies and more donated roughly $170,000 to Mullin’s campaign, according to an analysis by The Frontier.
Delaney Marsco, senior legal counsel for ethics for the Campaign Legal Center, said when members of Congress accept donations from wealthy special interest groups, it can raise questions about conflicts of interest. That can erode public trust in the democratic process, she said.
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“There’s a lot of power in these committees,” Marsco said. “It’s an avenue where if people are trying to seek influence, it makes sense that they would target those sitting on the committees where the decisions that impact those industries are made.”
Mullin’s campaign did not respond to several interview requests or written questions.
PACs that donated to Mullin’s campaign included groups for OG&E employees, Continental Resources, Halliburton, U.S. Cellular, pharmacy groups and pharmaceutical companies, OneOK employees, agricultural groups and various Republican-led coalitions.
Mullin has also received over $700,000 in outside financial support from the Republican Super PAC Defend US, started by former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. The PAC is funded by dark money groups that don’t have to publicly disclose their donors, as well as a handful of other businesses, including two Oklahoma businesses — Rustic Decor, LLC of Oklahoma City, and Hilliary Communications of Lawton.
Individual contributions made up 68% of Mullin’s total contributions through Oct. 19, totaling over $2.4 million. Contributions from PACs totaled $1.1 million. Mullin also loaned $1 million of his own funds to his campaign and had carryover funds from his House committee.
Roughly 97% of Horn’s contributions came from individual donors rather than PACs or other organizations. Law firms, the health care sector and retired or unemployed individuals contributed heavily to Horn’s campaign.
Other top industry donors to Mullin’s campaign include banking and finance professionals, as well as the construction and transportation industries and retired individuals. Native tribes and tribal organizations throughout America donated around $80,000. Mullin is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
“Having his understanding of what hospitals and other health care organizations are going through these days is very helpful,” said Paul Lee, founder of Strategic Health Care, a health care consulting firm that lobbies for hospitals at the U.S. Capitol.
Strategic Health Care employees donated at least $3,000 to Mullin’s campaign. The agency has lobbied members of Congress on drug pricing programs, surprise medical billing legislation and COVID-19 relief, according to federal lobbying disclosures.
Eight top executives for Hilliary Communications, a company that provides internet and TV service in southwest and southeast Oklahoma, as well as related companies donated about $70,000 to Mullin’s campaign, according to an analysis of campaign donors.
The company also contributed $50,000 to the Defend US PAC, according to the FEC. The company has also lobbied Congress on broadband funding and rural development.
Dustin Hilliary, managing partner of Hilliary Communications, said Mullin has been helpful in navigating federal bureaucracy.
“Oklahoma still has great strides to make in expanding fiber in rural areas to improve quality of life and access to health care, education or telework jobs,” Hilliary said in a statement. “We are confident that Markwayne Mullin is the only candidate in this race that can successfully bring home Oklahomans’ tax dollars through existing federal grants and funds to build out the state’s broadband infrastructure.”
Hilliary said business officials also favor Mullin because of his support of Fort Sill and how he has pushed back on environmental regulations that can delay some infrastructure projects.
Mullin announced his campaign to replace U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe in February, and he’s held a steady 10+ point lead against Horn throughout the race, according to various polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight.
In the months leading up to the primary election June 28, Mullin spent $1.9 million on media buys and direct mail to voters, according to campaign filings. That spending slowed before the Aug. 23 runoff, with Mullin spending just roughly $800,000 between the primary and the runoff. Mullin has only spent about $280,000 on media and mailers for the general election as of Oct. 19.