Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. DYLAN GOFORTH, The Frontier

This story was updated Dec. 20.

Though 2018 is more than a week away, one group is getting a jump on the election year by airing the season’s first television ads for governor.

A Super PAC supporting Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett in his bid for governor said it plans to spend more than $100,000 on digital and television ad buys in the Tulsa area in the next few weeks.

The group, Oklahoma Values, has aired a number of ads already supporting Cornett in his run for governor, and has scheduled more to run on Tulsa television stations and cable companies. That includes a single $16,000 ad buy on ESPN to run on Jan. 1, 2018, during the Rose Bowl, in which the University of Oklahoma is playing.

An adviser for Oklahoma Values said the group plans to spend $100,000 on digital and television ads in the Tulsa area through Dec. 23 and during the Rose Bowl promoting Cornett.

The group, headed by a Tulsa cardiologist but based in Oklahoma City, is what is commonly referred to as a Super PAC, meaning it can take unlimited amounts of money from donors, spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of or against candidates and must report its donors and expenditures to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

Oklahoma Values, which was established in July, lists only two donors between July 1, 2017 and Sept. 30, 2017:

  • A $25,000 donation from Mo Anderson, philanthropist and vice-president and co-owner of Keller Williams International real estate company.
  • $200,000 in donations from Sue Ann Arnall, principal of Essay Investments LLC and ex-wife of Oklahoma oil tycoon and founder of Continental Resources Harold Hamm.

Political groups’ next filing listing donors for the remainder of 2017 are not due until Jan. 31.

Super PACs, which came about following the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs. FEC,  are not allowed to coordinate with the official campaign committees of the candidates they support, so activities like sharing polling data or coordinating the release or composition of an advertisement are often considered off-limits.

Super PACs are also not allowed to donate directly to candidates, but can (among other things) buy advertisements supporting or opposing a candidate, known as an “independent expenditure.”

A second type of independent expenditure group is known as a “dark money” organization, which is usually organized under IRS rules as a 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization. Like Super PACs, these groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in support of or in opposition to a candidate through independent expenditures, but unlike Super PACs dark money organizations are not required to publicly report donors to election regulators and must spend less than half their funds on political purposes. These groups are often used to mask donors and funnel money to Super PACs.

So far, it appears the Oklahoma Values ads are only running on Tulsa-area television stations. No ad buys by the group show up in Federal Communications Commission filings for television stations in the Oklahoma City area.

After announcing his candidacy, Cornett made a campaign stop in Tulsa. Cornett, 58, told The Frontier that his name recognition was not as good in Tulsa as it was in Oklahoma City, where he has been mayor since 2004, but he hoped to change that.

Cornett said his campaign’s early polling found his name was recognized by only about 15 percent of the residents in the Tulsa area.

Cornett also faces a crowded and well-funded Republican primary field, as five other Republicans (Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson, Tulsa mortgage broker Kevin Stitt, former state representative Dan Fisher and State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones) are competing to win the June 26 primary election. Though Cornett trailed behind Stitt and Lamb in fundraising, he was able to raise more than half a million dollars in the third quarter of 2017.

The winner of the competition will face the winner of the Democratic primary election between State Sen. Connie Johnson and former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, as well as the winner of the Libertarian Party primary between Joseph Maldonado, Chris Powell and Rex Lawhorn.

As of Sept. 30, Oklahoma Values had spent more than $20,000 between July and the end of September, including more than $14,000 to the Washington D.C.-based lobbying and law firm Wiley Rein LLP for legal fees.

Don Constan, an advisor to Oklahoma Values, has headed several national GOP Super PACs and organizations in the past.

In a media release on its website, Oklahoma Values stated that the group’s sole purpose is to support Republican Mick Cornett’s candidacy for governor.

“For too long our state has been ill-served by typical politicians and their continued dysfunction,” Dr. Darwin Childs, the Tulsa cardiologist who serves as chair and treasurer of the group, was quoted as saying in the press release. “Mick Cornett is different. He’s an outsider to state government with an downright impressive conservative record leading Oklahoma City. We’re proud to support Mick’s candidacy and are confident that when Republican primary voters learn about Mick, there will be no question who should lead our great state next.”

Above: An independent expenditure advertisement by Super PAC Oklahoma Values in support of Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

According to filings with the Federal Communications Commission, Oklahoma Values had purchased more than $29,000 worth of television advertisements on several Tulsa television stations, including a $13,305 ad buy with KOKI (Fox 23) and the $16,000 ad buy with Cox Communications to run in Tulsa during the Rose Bowl, according to Federal Communications Commission records. Those records also show the group has inquired about an ad contract with KJRH (NBC 2).

The group has also run ads with KOTV (NewsOn6), but as of Monday the station did not include those reports in its public information file.

Update: On Wednesday Dec. 20, KOTV uploaded the required documents from Oklahoma Values to the FCC public files website. An earlier version of this story stated that a national sales coordinator at Griffin Communications told The Frontier that the company does not put local and state candidate ad buys in the company’s public FCC file. However, Wade Deaver, vice president of sales said Wednesday that the company does upload all local and state candidate ad buys to the FCC public site, and FCC records as of Wednesday confirm that local and state advertisement buys from candidates are posted to the site.

To do your own search of television stations’ (and some radio stations and cable systems’) public files, including political ad buys, click here.