Want to run for public office? You might have to pony up some of your own money.
A review by The Frontier of state races as well Tulsa-area Senate and House of Representative races showed about one-fourth of the candidates running for those offices loaned themselves money while campaigning.
Combined, the 33 candidates loaned themselves nearly $6 million according to finance filings reviewed by The Frontier. More than half of that was in the race for Oklahoma Governor.
Tulsa mortgage broker Kevin Stitt, a Republican running for Oklahoma Governor, leads all candidates in personal loans, having lent his campaign more than $2 million.
It’s not rare for first-time candidates to give themselves a boost as they launch their campaign and try to make room in a crowded field. But critics have said that since viability in a political race can be so tied to visibility, unlimited personal loans can be a way for a potentially unqualified wealthy person to buy their way into the fray.
As for Stitt, he said the personal loans to his campaign were to match the money he had raised through individual donations.
Donelle Harder, Stitt’s campaign spokeswoman, said Stitt had committed early to matching individual donations with personal loans because “he will never ask anyone to do anything he won’t do himself, (so) he’s matched those contributions dollar for dollar.”
Stitt first loaned himself $250,000 on July 7 just before formally announcing his bid for Governor, according to campaign finance reports. He loaned himself another $250,000 in August, and then loaned himself $250,000 on Sept. 28 and $50,000 on Sept. 30.
He loaned himself another $300,000 just before 2017 ended to match the money he’d raised during the year’s final filing period, and then loaned himself $400,000 on March 31 to match donations made to start 2018.
The most recent campaign filing shows Stitt broke from tradition a bit. Despite raising $383,018.50 from April 1 to June 11, Stitt loaned himself an additional $675,000.
Harder said the additional money loaned by Stitt to end the latest filing period was because the mortgage broker wanted to “finish strong.”
“Kevin Stitt has had his head down, building his company and creating hundreds of jobs across Oklahoma over twenty years while career politicians have been casting votes and cashing checks in order to prepare for their next run for higher office,” Harder said in an email. “Since Kevin Stitt entered the race, he has received more than 1,800 individual donations and out-raised the other candidates.”
Candidates can recoup personal campaign loans after their respective race finishes if their campaign ends with enough of a balance.
The Governor race has, perhaps unsurprisingly, seen the largest personal loans of all the races analyzed by The Frontier. Gary Richardson, also running to replace Gov. Mary Fallin, has loaned himself $1,000,000 over the course of his campaign.
While Stitt mostly matched campaign donations dollar-for-dollar ($2,175,000 in loans to $1,901,116.85 in donations,) the majority of money raised by Richardson came through personal loans.
Campaign finance reports filed by Richardson show the Tulsa Republican raised $242,299 during the course of his campaign. His final finance filing showed he had just over $17,000 remaining in his coffers, meaning he’s unlikely to recoup his personal investment.
Richardson, in a statement to The Frontier, said his political outsider status has made fundraising somewhat difficult.
“Raising money is tough when you are a political outsider,” Richardson wrote. “I also have political convictions and positions that I will not violate in order to get contributions.”
He said that while campaigning, two different groups approached him asking him to commit to raising the state’s Gross Production Tax on oil and gas drilling.
“I told them I did not believe raising taxes was the answer to our problems — it just covers up the problem,” Richardson wrote. “I therefore, refused.
“So to be competitive, and with the commitment Lanna and I have to win the Governor’s race, we made it a matter of prayer and decided to invest in a worthy cause.”
Democrat Drew Edmondson loaned himself $60,000, records show, and has raised nearly $1.5 million through donations. His opponent in the Democratic primary, Connie Johnson, hasn’t loaned herself any money and has raised just over $68,000.
The Attorney General primary between incumbent Republican Mike Hunter and challenger Gentner Drummond also proved quite costly. Hunter, records show, loaned himself $300,000, a figure ultimately dwarfed by the $875,000 in personal loans Drummond made to his campaign.
Neither candidate appears likely to have enough money left over to immediately pay themselves back in full, according to finance filings.
Republican Cathy Costello, running for state Labor Commissioner, loaned herself $525,000, records show. Costello is the wife of late former Labor Commissioner Mark Costello.
Costello first loaned herself $275,050 last year as she launched her campaign, then loaned herself an additional $250,000 late last March.
Those loans allowed Costello, who raised only $53,905 in donations, to keep up with competitor and fellow Republican Leslie Osborn. Osborn, a term-limited state Representative from Mustang, raised more than $450,000 without loaning herself any money.
Costello, in a statement to The Frontier, said she invested in her campaign to show her supporters that she had a “genuine and personal commitment to make Oklahoma a better place.”
“I don’t see how I could ethically ask others to donate to the campaign if I were not willing to do the same,” she wrote. “I have absolutely no political motivation, power motivation, or pension motivation to serve in this office. I will answer only to the people of Oklahoma and, consequently, my campaign is not fueled by money from special interests.
The Lieutenant Governor’s race also saw two personal loans. Democrat Anna Dearmore gave herself a $20,000 loan, and Republican Matt Pinnell loaned himself $40,000.
Several other races saw extensive personal loans.
Incumbent Republican Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony loaned himself $360,000 after raising $150,000 in donations. Not to be outdone, Brian Bingman, his main challenger in the primary election and former State Senate Pro Tempore, loaned himself $100,000. Bingman raised more than $300,000 through donations, finance filings show.
In the race for House District 67, Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, raised only $1,000 in donations according to records, but loaned himself $150,000. His opponent, Scott McEachin, also of Tulsa, did not loan himself any money but has seen a pair of Super PACs (Catalyst Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Federation for Children Action Fund) join the race on his behalf.
In House District 12, incumbent Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, loaned himself $10,000 as he has battled Nick Mahoney, from Wagoner. McDugle has raised more than $34,000 in donations but has spent just $8,170.93, record show.
Staff writers Clifton Adcock and Kassie McClung contributed to this report