Super PACs, some backed by dark money, are injecting millions of dollars into Oklahoma’s competitive U.S. House and Senate races this year. Some are even outspending the candidates themselves.
The two main super PACs shooting money into Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District race, School Freedom Fund and Fund for a Working Congress, have spent a combined $3.2 million since the June 28 primary in advance of the Aug. 23 runoff. In comparison, the two Republican candidates Rep. Avery Frix and former state Sen. Josh Brecheen, have only spent a combined $823,657.
For every dollar Brecheen’s campaign has spent, School Freedom Fund has spent about $7.97 in his support or opposing Frix, according to a Frontier analysis of Federal Election Commission data through Aug. 11. For every dollar the Frix campaign has spent, Fund for a Working Congress has spent about $2.32 in his support or opposing Breechen.
Neither Super PAC responded to phone calls from The Frontier.
Super PACs and dark money groups have had greater influence on elections since the 2010 Citizen United U.S. Supreme Court decision, which allows corporations and other wealthy outside groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns.
Unlimited outside spending can turn elections into proxy wars between special interest groups instead of races between candidates, said Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform for the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan organization that advocates for transparency in political spending.
“It’s extremely bad for our elections,” Ghosh said. “Their motivations are almost always to support the candidate that is going to advance their interests and policies that will help them in some way.”
Since the primary, Fund for a Working Congress has spent $1.3 million on mailers, TV ads, door hangers and more supporting Frix and opposing Brecheen.
Both groups have funded attack ads with claims that both candidates describe as “half-truths.”
In mailers, Fund for a Working Congress accused Brecheen of wanting to end the electoral college saying that if he “had his way Hillary Clinton would be President.”
“A half-truth is a whole lie,” Brecheen said. “They’re taking a vote out of context.”
School Freedom Fund has spent $1.8 million since the primary supporting Brecheen and opposing Frix. The group is involved in congressional races across the country and is an extension of the anti-tax Club For Growth. The School Freedom Fund is funded entirely by Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass, federal spending records show.
The group’s attacks on Frix have been trying to paint him as a pro-tax legislator, claiming in mailers he voted for $2.7 billion in tax hikes during his time in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
“They’re missing the fact that we were able to balance the budget,” Frix said.
School Freedom Fund’s affiliate, Club For Growth, was a major backer of the late U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who Brecheen worked for as a field staffer. He also adheres to Coburn’s staunch conservative ideology and is a former Club For Growth fellow.
Both Frix and Breechen have condemned the outside groups attacking them, but not the ones supporting them.
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“(Candidates) want to talk about how horrible this outside influence is but they don’t want to upset the people that are helping them,” said Pat McFerron, a Republican strategist and pollster in Oklahoma “There’s a balance. Otherwise, you’re tying one arm behind your back.”
Fund for a Working Congress, the pro-Frix Super PAC, is registered in Virginia and has also supported candidates for Congress in Ohio, Georgia and other states. The super PAC is mostly funded by the dark money groups Sooner State Leadership Fund and Prosperity Alliance. Other donors include American Jobs and Growth PAC and Defend US PAC, two groups also mostly funded by Prosperity Alliance.
As a 501c4 non-profit, Prosperity Alliance is not required to disclose its donors. Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning watchdog group, filed an IRS complaint against the group in 2019, claiming the non-profit “violated its tax-exempt status by making politics its primary activity and also failed to properly disclose its political spending on its tax forms.”
The watchdog group filed the complaint after Prosperity Alliance reported to the IRS that it wasn’t involved in political operations even though federal election spending records showed otherwise, said Matthew Corley, an investigator with Citizens for Responsible Ethics.
Per IRS laws, a nonprofit can make political contributions and participate in politics as long as it is not the group’s sole focus.
“They denied to the IRS that they were engaged in political activity when they clearly were making hundreds of 1,000s of dollars in Super PAC contributions that were then used to influence elections in state elections,” Corley said.
Since the complaint, the group has reported its political activity to the IRS, which has not been the majority of the group’s spending, Corley said.
Super PACs are also flooding the race to become the Republican nominee for Oklahoma’s open U.S. Senate seat.
Oklahoma Conservative Alliance dropped $1.4 million in support of T.W. Shannon before the June primary. The group is funded entirely by Safe Streets Safe Communities, a 501c4 nonprofit that is not required to disclose its donors.
Since the primary, a new group has backed Shannon, Fighters For A Strong America PAC. The Tulsa-based group has dropped over $600,000 in support of Shannon. The group is entirely funded by the 501c4 dark money group Fund Leadership Action.
Paul Kilgore, the only listed agent for Fighters For A Strong America PAC, declined to comment.
Mullin also has support from outside spending. Defend US PAC, created by former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to support conservative candidates, has dropped $716,000 backing Mullin. The Super PAC is funded heavily by Prosperity Alliance and several corporations including Hilliary Communications based in Lawton and Rustic Decor, LLC based in Oklahoma City.
Crypto Innovation, a Super PAC funded in part by former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci that supports Republican candidates across the country, spent $167,000 in support of Mullin before the primary.