A Chamber spokesman confirmed to Oklahoma Gazette that the economic development group Forward Oklahoma City IV contributed to a nonprofit that then sent the money to a committee conducting the campaign operations.
The 527 group Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum purchased ads endorsing several candidates and issued critical direct mail pieces against Ward 5 Councilman Brian Walters, the only incumbent to lose the March 1 primary election.
The Sooner Tea Party-endorsed Walters, the lone council member to vote against MAPS 3, was attacked in the Momentum mailers for not being conservative enough. One piece pictured Walters alongside President Barack Obama.
The group also issued mailers attacking Ward 2 candidate Ed Shadid, who is facing Charlie Swinton in Tuesday’s runoff. A recent flyer alleged Shadid lives “off the grid,” calling him a vegetarian “agonizing” over fossil fuel usage.
Momentum is a 527 group, referred to as such because of the section in IRS regulations under which it falls. Several 527s have become famous — and infamous — in political campaigns over the past decade, such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Citizens United and the Media Fund.
A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, allowed many 527 groups to directly engage in electioneering, and allowed nonprofits such as 501(c)(4) organizations, considered social welfare groups, to play a far greater role in elections.
While political action and candidate committees are regulated by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and the Federal Election Commission, 527s and nonprofits are not, with jurisdiction falling under the IRS.
However, under state law, committees and organizations must file contribution and expenditure election reports, meaning that the Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum, even with its 527 status, had to disclose its donors. Paperwork was filed with the city around 4:30 p.m. on March 25, the deadline day.
However, Momentum’s report only added another layer of secrecy to the flow of money, making it difficult for the general public to know exactly who is behind the group’s campaign activity.
In Momentum’s March 25 filing, the group lists a single donor: the nonprofit group A Better Oklahoma City Inc., which contributed $415,000, counting $117,000 in in-kind, or non-monetary, contributions.
Momentum spent $409,764, including $10,000 on personal services, $78,087 on printing, $87,000 on radio and TV ads, $188,189 on general advertising, and $46,486 toward “miscellaneous” expenditures.
Because A Better Oklahoma City is simply a donor, and did not file with the city to participate in the campaign, it does not have to disclose its donors.
And while federal law requires 527 groups to reveal its donors to the IRS in public filings, groups such as A Better Oklahoma City are exempt from such requirements.
A Better Oklahoma City filed its incorporation papers with the Secretary of State on Friday, Feb. 11, which was the city’s first deadline for campaign reporting. The following Wednesday, Momentum established its 527 status with the IRS and filed paperwork to participate in Oklahoma City campaigns.
Incorporation papers show A Better Oklahoma City has a P.O. Box and one director: Oklahoma City resident Amy Albro. Albro is an employee and registered agent of Oklahoma City-based Public Strategies Group LLC.
Albro is also listed as the treasurer for at least three state-registered PACs: Oklahoma City Business Council (whose chairman is Clayton Bennett, owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder, chairman of Dorchester Capital LLC, and past chair of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber); Central Oklahoma Business Alliance (Chairman Greg Love of Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores); and Greater Oklahoma City Legislative Committee (Chairman Larry Nichols, Devon Energy executive chairman). Ethics Commission records show Public Strategies Group was paid $11,128 from Central Oklahoma Business Alliance, $15,796 from Greater OKC Legislative Committee and $18,823 from Oklahoma City Business Council since 2006.
In a telephone interview, Albro said the PACs were not linked with the Better Oklahoma City group.
Albro also issued a written statement, saying the group’s policy is to keep its contributors private unless specifically requested by the contributor.
“It was formed as a not-for-profit corporation directed by Amy Albro of Oklahoma City,” Albro wrote. “A Better Oklahoma City Inc. is an independent organization and is not affiliated with, or an entity of, any other organization. A Better Oklahoma City receives its funds from the business and civic community of Oklahoma City to conduct its work.”
Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum Chairman William H. Whitehill Jr., an OKC attorney, said the group has not coordinated its campaign with any candidates.
In a statement, the Chamber said that members of its Forward Oklahoma City IV group donated to A Better Oklahoma City.
“A Better Oklahoma City Inc. is a 501(c) nonprofit formed to support continued growth in the city. It is not an entity of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, however Forward Oklahoma City IV investors have contributed to its efforts,” the statement read. “No membership dues were used toward the contribution nor were any contract monies from the city or county that are designated to support specific programs. Forward OKC IV was established to position Oklahoma City as one of the top economic development site locations in the country, and its resources come from a limited number of businesses who choose to invest in additional programs to advance our city.”
Forward OKC IV has a list of donors on its website, including Devon Energy, Love’s, the Chickasaw Nation, OGE, Sandridge Energy, Chesapeake Energy, American Fidelity Corporation, Oklahoma Natural Gas, Oklahoma Publishing Co. and Dorchester Capital.
The Chamber denied giving money directly to Momentum.
Direct mail attack ads:
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