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Show me the money

Two groups were behind nearly half of the cash flow in the contentious Oklahoma City Council election.

Clifton Adcock May 24th, 2011

The final campaign reports are filed from this year’s Oklahoma City Council elections, and the amount collected and spent in the four races, both by candidates and two groups making independent expenditures, is significant.

The most recent filing period ended May 16, and covered the period from around March 21 through May. While three elections — Wards 5, 6 and 8 — were decided during the March 1 election, the Ward 2 election went to an April 5 runoff.

The latest filings give the clearest picture yet of the total amount raised and spent during this year’s elections.

Besides the spending by candidate committees themselves, two committees that registered to participate in the election received funding from nonprofit groups that were set up shortly before the election. Bolstered by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 2010 Federal Election Commission v. Citizens United case, the nonprofit groups were able to donate large amounts of cash to the committees, which in turn made independent expenditures in support of and against certain candidates.

The two registered groups were A Better Local Government, backed by the 501(c)(4) group A Voice for Responsible Government, which was funded by local firefighters, and the Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum, which was funded by the nonprofit A Better Oklahoma City Inc., a group backed by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber program, Forward OKC IV.

By routing money through nonprofit groups, the original donors are avoiding filing at the state and city level.

In addition, several organizations and political action committees registered with the state made political donations to candidates and groups participating in the election, but did not fill out paperwork with the city to participate in the election. State filing may suffice, said Marilyn Hughes, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission’s executive director.

Oklahoma Gazette sent letters to a number of these PACs and organizations. Some of those groups ended up filing reporting forms during the latest reporting period, others responded that they were not required and some did not respond at all.

What is the breakdown of the 2011 City Council election spending?

According to filings, a total of nearly $1.3 million was spent overall on this year’s elections across all four races by all parties involved. Of that, 51.3 percent of the spending was from the 12 candidate committees themselves, and 48.7 percent of the spending came from the two independent expenditure groups.

A total of $656,051 was spent by the 12 candidates, with Momentum and A Better Local Government combining to spend $622,091. Between the two independent expenditure groups, Momentum had the lion’s share of spending, with $486,041.

The candidate that spent the most was Ward 2’s Charlie Swinton with $136,704. Swinton campaigned from February to April and faced Ed Shadid in the April 5 runoff election. Shadid, who was second in expenditures at $132,753 and spent more than $100,000 of his own money on his campaign, ended up winning the race.

Among candidates, the top fund raiser in the campaign was Ward 6 incumbent Meg Salyer, who reported $141,705 in donations, followed by Swinton, who raised about $139,000. Salyer was re-elected.

Money contributed to the two nonprofits accounted for around 47.05 percent of all reported campaign contributions, according to the city filings.

Donations from individuals and businesses accounted for 40.08 percent, followed by PAC donations at 6.62 percent, and donations under $200 at 6.23 percent.

Since the previous reporting period was a couple of weeks before the runoff, a significant amount of money spent went unreported until the most recent filing period.

According to Shadid’s filings, the candidate contributed $30,000 of his own money to the campaign on March 28, followed by around $1,500 in reportable donations from individuals prior to the election. Shadid also took in about $3,185 in individual donations under $200 during this time period, and on April 9, Shadid gave his campaign $11,000.

Swinton had more than 60 reported donations during the same time period.

In total, Shadid raised around $45,685 for the latest reporting period, while Swinton raised around $34,662.

Although Shadid contributed more money than Swinton during the final reporting period, he did not outspend him.

According to the filings, Swinton spent around $72,895 during the latest reporting time period, or 53 percent of his entire campaign expenditures; Shadid spent around $66,212, or 50 percent of his entire campaign expenditures.

Meanwhile, the independent expenditure group that participated in the Ward 2 runoff and campaigned against Shadid, Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum, received a $71,041 check from A Better Oklahoma City Inc. on March 22, the day after the previous reporting period deadline.

Up to that point, the group had spent more than $400,000 on the election, and during the latest reporting period, it spent $76,277.

Around two-dozen organizations and PACs participated in the election, either through donations or through independent expenditures, although only four of those groups filed registration papers with the city.

Those four that initially filed were Chesapeake’s PAC, the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades PAC, Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum and Better Local Government PAC. The Oklahoma Tea Party PAC also participated, but did not go above the donation threshold for reporting.

According to the 2010-11 Ethics Commission guide for campaign reporting in local government, which is authorized by state statute, the term “political action committee” includes a combination of two individuals or a person other than an individual, such as a corporation, with the purpose of supporting or opposing a candidate.

The Ethics Commission also lays out how some organizations, even if they are not registered PACs, are to register with the city clerk if they are to participate in a municipal election.

The Ethics Commission states:

“(a)lthough an organization may be primarily organized for a civic or other purpose, it becomes a committee required to designate an agent and register if it accepts contributions or dues in excess of $500 for supporting or opposing election campaigns.”

The Gazette sent letters on May 6 to 16 organizations that made contributions but did not file with the city clerk, stating that they appear to have not filed the necessary paperwork and requested an explanation if they did not plan to file.

During the latest reporting period, four PACs that gave donations during the election and had not previously filed with the city clerk did so. Those groups were the Oklahoma state AFL-CIO Political Action Fund, the Oklahoma Retired Firefighters Association PAC, the Oklahoma State Building and Construction Trades PAC and the Oklahoma Municipal Contractors Association PAC.

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