The biggest player in the race to replace Tulsa Congressman Jim Bridenstine might just be a fast food restaurant.
A review by The Frontier found that almost $130,000 of the outside donations brought in by frontrunner (and McDonald’s franchisee) Kevin Hern’s campaign was from fellow restaurateurs.
The vast majority of those donors appear to be other McDonald’s franchisees, according to a review of campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission. Hern, who owns 10 McDonald’s, spent five years as “chairman of the Systems Economic Team for the 3,000-plus franchisees that own the 15,000 U.S. restaurants,” according to his campaign website.
On his campaign website, Hern talks about using “every dime that he had to his name” in 1999 to buy two Muskogee McDonald’s. That purchase led him down a path to where he now operates 10 McDonald’s and “employs over 400 people.”
Last December Hern’s campaign sent out a press release after it was revealed in a news story that President Donald Trump was a longtime patron of McDonald’s.
“Did you know President Trump loves McDonald’s?” Hern wrote in the email to supporters. “His go-to order was recently revealed: two Big Macs, two Fillet-O-Fish (sic,) and a chocolate malted shake!
“As a McDonald’s franchisee, I couldn’t be more excited to see that our President is a huge fan of our delicious food.”
Hern also has a vast fundraising lead over his competitors in the District 1 Republican primary, having raised more than $1.3 million. (Federal Election Commission data shows his closet rivals are Andy Coleman, $294,924, and Tim Harris, $279,407.)
However, a review of Hern’s donations show more than half ($705,000) of Hern’s $1.3 million total were loans made by Hern himself or donations by his family members. Of the remaining $656,000 in donations, $129,025 came from fellow restaurant owners, many of whom are McDonald’s franchisees who do not operate in Oklahoma.
That $129,000 is more money than was raised by the entire campaigns of some of Hern’s opponents. Nathan Dahm, a state Senator, has raised just $117,427 according to FEC filings. Danny Stockstill, a Tulsa pastor and businessman, has raised just $59,084.
Former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris has raised $279,407, although more than $108,000 of that was in self loans or family donations. The largest subgroup of donors to Harris’ campaign, unsurprisingly, are attorneys, according to a Frontier review.
Andy Coleman, a former military intelligence officer, has raised the second-most money (nearly $300,000,) and has largely avoided loans and self or family donations.
Identifying each individual donor can be a tricky process. Donors are asked to identify their occupation, though it’s often an inexact science — there are no set occupations, so two people with the same job might write down different “occupations.”
To combat this, The Frontier created a database of nearly 30 groups and more than 100 subgroups to help identify which industries support which candidates.
As for Hern’s donations, 29 donors identified their employer as being “McDonald’s,” several of which were from out of state. John Petrakis, a Florida McDonald’s franchisee who excitedly promoted a “Create Your Taste” concept in 2015 that allowed burger lovers to add some artisan toppings to their old favorites.
Other donations totaling at least $1,000 came from McDonald’s owners in Texas towns like Corpus Christi, Boerne, Sherman, and San Antonio, or places like West Bend, Wisconsin, and Downers Grove, Illinois.
Others, like Glenn Kikuchi of Potomac, Maryland, identified themselves as being “self” employed. Kikuchi, who gave $1,500 to Hern, owns at least 10 McDonald’s, according to a Marketwatch profile.
Other donors — like John Durante of Sewell, New Jersey, ($2,025) or Susan Smith, Waialua, Hawaii, ($500) — also only identified themselves as being a self-employed restaurant owner.
Chris Cole, from Chicago, Illinois, donated $2,000 to Hern’s campaign and listed herself as retired, though she was formerly the “US CFO & Strategy Officer for McDonald’s Corp” according to her Linkedin page.
Other donations from McDonald’s owners proved harder to track. Like Hern, who manages 10 McDonald’s restaurants under his KTAK Corporation, many donors to his campaign listed their corporation names under their occupations.
Bill Matthews, from Springdale, Arkansas, donated the maximum $2,700 to Hern’s campaign under the employer identification of “Matthews Management.” A public record search shows that the management company owns more than 30 McDonald’s across several midwestern states. Fred Tillman, a Memphis, Tennessee, man who owns 69 “sets of golden arches” according to a 2015 Jackson Sun article, also donated the maximum to Hern’s campaign. Tillman’s donated was made under the employer identification of “Century Management.”
Hern’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the donations made by out of state McDonald’s owners.
Hern’s first attempt at fundraising was wildly successful, even without the McDonald’s money that flowed into his campaign. Not counting self loans, family donations and money from fellow McDonald’s alums, Hern easily raised more money than his opponents.
Discounting loans and McDonald’s money, Hern still raised more than $500,000, a figure that nearly doubles that raised by Coleman and Harris, who are considered his closest competitors.