Two political action committees that sought to oust a pair of incumbent state House Republicans during the June primary failed to report spending tens of thousands of dollars in the effort to state ethics officials.
Both groups, which registered to take part in federal elections but focused exclusively on state races, were funded by the same Broken Arrow nonprofit organization formed by a longtime Broken Arrow political consultant.
According to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and FEC reports, political action committees spent nearly $1 million on state-level elections since May 1, not counting spending state ballot questions.
State ethics rules require that groups spending money on political advertising to report their spending to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, said Ashley Kemp, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. However, both groups reported their spending only to the Federal Election Commission, and only after the election had taken place, records show.
On Aug. 5, the Federal Election Commission sent a letter to one of the groups requesting more information about a donation from a for-profit limited liability company, constituting what the commission’s letter states could be a prohibited contribution to the PAC.
The two political action committees, which are considered “Super PACs” because they can raise and spend unlimited sums of money on “independent expenditures” supporting or opposing candidates, took part over the summer in the Oklahoma State House District 11 and House District 12 Republican primary elections.
In a filing with the Federal Election Commission, the Oklahomans for Truth, Unity, Markets, & Prosperity (TRUMP) PAC reported spending $19,000 between June 19 and June 26 on direct mail pieces and social media ads to oppose incumbent House District 12 Republican Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow. Ultimately, McDugal prevailed in the June 30 primary elections over challenger Justin Dine.
A separate federal Super PAC, Make Oklahoma Great Again, reported spending $45,000 on June 27 on “multimedia” to support House District 11 candidate Wendi Stearman. Stearman, who in her campaign filings reported spending no money, was successful in the June 30 primary, unseating freshman Republican Derrel Fincher, R-Bartlesville.
Even though both Super PACs reported their spending and donors to the Federal Election Commission after the primary election, neither reported their independent expenditures to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, which requires that such spending be disclosed prior to the election.
Minimum civil penalties could be between $5,000 and $20,000 for a single violation or between $10,000 and $50,000 for multiple violations, Kemp said.
Though on paper the two groups are separate entities with different treasurers, both were mostly funded by a single nonprofit entity incorporated in 2019 by Broken Arrow resident and political consultant James David Tackett, who was also listed as the treasurer for the Oklahomans for TRUMP PAC, according to incorporation records and campaign filings.
The nonprofit entity funding both groups, Conservatives for a Great Broken Arrow, also goes by the trade name of Vote Safe, according to Oklahoma Secretary of State incorporation records.
Tackett, who is also the Wagoner County GOP’s precinct 103 chairman, did not return messages on social media and a message left at his Broken Arrow home by The Frontier.
The donor or donors to Conservatives for a Great Broken Arrow/Vote Safe were not immediately clear. However, an analysis of corporate records and Federal Election Commission filings show that money from that group — as well as Tackett’s limited liability company, Init2 — went through the Oklahomans for TRUMP Super PAC before going back to Tackett’s company for mail pieces and social media work, with the expenditures being listed under a trade name used by Init2 — Win Mail & Design.
The Federal Election Commission records show that Conservatives for a Great Broken Arrow, under the trade name Vote Safe, donated $15,500 to Oklahomans for TRUMP PAC on June 19, and Tackett’s for-profit company Init2 LLC donated $3,500 on June 23. The super PAC then paid Win Mail & Design, the trade name for Init2, $9,000 on June 19 for direct mail and social media, $6,000 on June 23 for direct mail, and $4,000 on June 26 for “social media and SMS,” according to campaign filings.
On Aug. 5, the Federal Election Commission also sent Oklahomans for TRUMP a letter questioning the donations and requesting more information about the donations from Vote Safe, Inc., and Init2, LLC, since for-profit corporate entities without a segregated account cannot make direct donations to political action committees. Though Vote Safe’s incorporation records list it as a nonprofit, Init2, LLC is listed as a for-profit company.
The letter advises Oklahomans for TRUMP to either correct the filing if the donation was listed in error or refund the money if indeed the donations constitute a “prohibited contribution.”
The FEC records also show that Vote Safe donated $50,000 to the Make Oklahoma Great Again Super PAC on June 18, a little more than a week after the PAC was formed.
Edmond attorney and Liberty Legal Solutions LLC managing partner Jonathan Krems, who also serves on the Oklahoma County Board of Adjustment and chairman of the Oklahoma County GOP Platform Committee, is the only individual listed in Make Oklahoma Great Again’s Federal Election Commission paperwork.
Krems declined to comment and claimed information about the Super PAC was “confidential.”
However, Make Oklahoma Great Again’s Federal Election Commission reporting paperwork shows that, of the $50,000 it received from Vote Safe, $45,000 was paid to a Wyoming company that had only been formed two days prior, Strategic Management LLC, using a registered agent company that masks the company’s actual ownership, according to Wyoming Secretary of State records and FEC filings.
According to the FEC filing, that $45,000 was for “multimedia” services in support of Wendi Stearman in House District 11. A search of political ads on Facebook showed no social media ads had been taken out in that race.
However, numerous voters reported getting automated text messages in the days leading up to the election that supported Stearman, both Stearman and Fincher said, though it is not clear whether those texts were paid for by Make Oklahoma Great Again.
“I was aware. I never received any text messages, but some people told me that some came out,” Stearman told The Frontier. “They couldn’t tell which side was sending them. I got some complaints from some of my constituents. I’m not aware of who or where they came from.”
Stearman defeated Fincher during the June 30 primary with 55.5 percent of the vote.
Q-Anon references, strange texts
Fincher provided The Frontier with several texts that he said voters sent him screenshots of.
“Derrel Fincher overrode Gov. Stitt’s vetoes 10 times including the vote giving himself a 35% pay raise! It’s time for liberal Derrel Fincher to go!” one text message from June 29 stated.
“Vote Wendi Stearman today. Endorsed by Prolife Oklahoma, OK2A, OCPAC, & Oklahomans for Trump,” another text message sent to voters on June 30, the day of the primary, states. “Wendi is the only Prolife candidate. Vote Trump in Nov. WWG1WGA.”
WWG1WGA is a commonly-used acronym used in Q-Anon conspiracy circles that stands for “where we go one, we go all.” Subscribers to QAnon doctrine, which began in online message boards, believe in a wide-ranging Satanic conspiracy that incorporates a “deep state” that runs the U.S. government, controls the media and, with the assistance of Democrats, oversees a global pedophile and child sex-trafficking ring, while also harvesting children for chemicals in their body, and believe that President Donald Trump and former Special Counsel Robert Muller are attempting to expose those responsible for it.
Though the QAnon claims lack evidence, the conspiracy theory has begun to pick up steam among elected officials, celebrities, in social media, and in campaign material.
Fincher said the text messages were dishonest and mischaracterized his record and beliefs.
“There was a tremendous amount of peer-to-peer texting with totally inaccurate statements in them that happened beforehand. I had no idea who did that,” Fincher said. “One was saying I voted for my own pay raise. Another was saying I wasn’t pro-life and that I voted against pro-life measures.”
When asked by The Frontier, Stearman said she had never heard of Make Oklahoma Great Again, Conservatives for a Great Broken Arrow/Vote Safe or David Tackett.
“If they spent money on my race, I don’t know where it went,” Stearman said. “Because I know what I spent and what came out, which was very little because I have very little money. I mostly just knocked on doors.”
Ethics Commission records show a separate super PAC Majority Fund, which makes independent expenditure to retain incumbent House Republicans, spent more than $6,000 on direct mail pieces to voters in support of Fincher.
Stearman will face Democrat Emilie Tindle during the Nov. 3 general election.
Likewise, McDugle also said the federal Super PAC that opposed him during his primary election — Oklahomans for TRUMP — engaged in dishonest campaigning, and sent out mailers and social media messages that, like Fincher, accused him of voting to raise his legislative salary and of being pro-choice on abortion rights.
“The whole campaign that David Tackett ran was meant to deceive the voters, period,” McDugle said. “He’s under the belief system that if you mail people enough of something, they’re going to believe it.
“When he sends a mailer out saying I’m 100 percent pro-choice, it’s an outright lie. And he knows it.”
Ethics Commission records show that the Majority Fund super PAC also spent more than $7,600 on direct mail pieces, texting and telephone calls in support of McDugle.