It was a good night for most at the Republican election night watch party at the Marriott on Northwest Expressway.
The Oklahoma state Senate finally, after a century, went into the control of the Republicans. The party’s penetration into the ranks of the House deepened.
However, for U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, the evening was not so good. But he won.
“This has been a particularly difficult race,” Inhofe said. “There is a thing that should be changed in our laws called 527s. My opponent was not so much really Andrew Rice as it was individuals in California, a guy “¦ who put together all these nasty ads against me. They were paid for by the far-left extremists in Hollywood. Not by people here in Oklahoma.”
One particular ad drew the senator’s ire. It had been produced and distributed by a group called the 2020 Action Fund, out of Boston. Inhofe described it to the audience.
“The last one you saw ” remember? The one where I was beatin’ up somebody at night, kicking them in the face? That was done from a very liberal group up in Boston, Mass. So that’s what can happen with 527s,” Inhofe said to the assembled crowd at the watch party.
Inhofe said that 527 organizations have little restrictions and access to millions of dollars.
“You would think that with all the wealthy entrepreneurs that are Republican that they would have 527s, but they don’t,” Inhofe said.
Scored with flamenco-sounding music, the ad to which Inhofe referred shows old silent film stock footage of a man repeatedly kicking another in the rear end as he attempts to get up from the ground. Then it flashes to Babylonian scenes of excess ” a man flashing money, and another gorging himself.
Spliced into the scenes are such messages as “Voted Against Energy Independence,” “Voted Against Fair Minimum Wages” and “Voted Against Small Business Stimulus.” The last scene is stopped with a final kick, flashing Inhofe’s face pasted onto the image of the kicker.
“Kick back, Oklahoma,” the ad states. “Tell Jim Inhofe to stop mortgaging our future.”
Although the ad didn’t mention Inhofe’s opponent, Oklahoma state Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, it probably didn’t hurt Rice’s campaign to have the ads running. In fact, Rice came from far behind and closed the gap to within 12 points of Inhofe by the time election day rolled around. Rice spokesman Tres Savage said the campaign had no comment.
“One of the things I’m interested in doing when I get back in January is, I want to change the laws so they can’t have 527s unless we know who the money is coming from,” Inhofe said.
Brooke Coleman, a spokesman for the organization that funded the ad, 2020 Action Fund, said Inhofe was wrong on a couple of points, pointing out that the organization has an important free speech right to oppose Inhofe in a public forum.
“We’re not a 527. We’re something called a 501(c)(4). The outcome is largely the same. Both organizations can go and raise Cain with regard to electioneering,” he said. “It’s certainly legal, and our goal in going down there and doing that and raising issue was not so much to smear him but to get people to ask questions about his record. “¦ Did we do it with an ad that was kind of off the wall? Yeah, we did, because we knew there would be a lot of political ads and you gotta dare to be different.”
Coleman said the 2020 Action Fund has to file complicated paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service in order to qualify as a 501(c)(4) organization, and that the group is closely watched by the powers that be.
“They are not at all easy and they are very transparent. I’m not sure to what degree people taking out ads on television can be more closely regulated, unless you want to get them out altogether, which is probably what a guy like Jim Inhofe wants to do,” Coleman said.
Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the nonpartisan watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics, said both 527s and 501(c)(4)s have elements that are subversive to the election process and do need to be closely regulated. The 527 groups do raise more money for Democrats than Republicans, he said, but a prominent Republican 527, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, got a lot of publicity in the last election.
“Swift Boat Veterans got the attention, but there is more money on the Democratic side,” Ritsch said. “They can collect contributions from just about anybody: corporations, wealthy individuals, foreigners, you name it ” just about anybody. They are not supposed to be using money to support or oppose candidates for office, but they’ve been able to exploit loopholes and vagueness in the law to do exactly that.”
But 501(c)(4) groups, like 2020, should have more regulation, Ritsch said.
“They do not have to disclose their donors,” Ritsch said. “That is an area where there is a need for more disclosure. I hope the Federal Election Commission is considering ways to curtail the involvement of those groups in elections.”
Coleman doubted that Inhofe would get any such legislation heard in the upcoming Senate, in which his party is now a minority.
“Jim Inhofe has less and less credibility, in part because he make statements like he just made ” that Democrats have 527s and Republicans don’t. He makes similar statements about the energy sector, veteran’s benefits “¦ the guy lives within his own fictitious reality,” Coleman said. “Ben Fenwick