Oklahoma Campaign Spending Reaches $33M
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma candidates have spent $33 million running for state offices so far in this election cycle, with nearly half of the money going toward the governor's race.
About $2 million of the total has flowed through outside groups, and most of that money has been designated for the Republican races for governor and attorney general, the Oklahoman reported. Candidates are seeking money from individual donors and special interest groups, but in many cases are also tapping their own bank accounts.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Stitt has loaned his campaign more than $3 million and paid an additional $86,000 out of pocket. Stitt's campaign had spent about $6 million through mid-August, which already eclipses the two previous top gubernatorial spenders. Gov. Mary Fallin spent $4.5 million in 2014 and former Gov. Brad Henry spent $4.8 million in 2006.
Others who invested significantly in their 2018 campaigns included former gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson, who lost in the primary; labor commissioner candidate Cathy Costello; attorney general candidates Mike Hunter and Gentner Drummond; and Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony.
"There's a trend toward self-funded campaigns," said Lee Slater, a campaign finance attorney and former executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
Most of the money spent by campaigns came from individual donors. Overall, gubernatorial candidates raised about $17.5 million, including only $266,650 from political action committees.
PACs are typically made up of people of a particular profession or with a common interest who pool their money to contribute to candidates' campaigns. Donors and their contributions to PACs must be made public and there are limits on how much an individual can donate.
Super PACs, however, don't have limits on donation and spending amounts, but the entities can't donate directly to candidates or coordinate with the campaign. Their independent expenditures are typically made on media ads. For example, a super PAC representing the Republican Attorneys General Association spent over $1 million in support of Hunter.
The most significant increase in spending has come from corporations, said Ashley Kemp, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United ruling in 2010, "corporations no longer need to form PACs as they are now able to engage directly in advocacy for or against candidates, so long as the activity is independent of candidates and their committees," Kemp said.
"This is the money that is typically referred to as 'dark money,' because it does not run through committees that are required to register and file routine reports," she said.
The general election is Nov. 6.