Sunday, September 30, 2007

GOP funds under question

By MICK HINTON World Capitol Bureau

The Oklahoma County Republican Party received money meant for the state party.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Key Republicans intent on taking over the state House of Representatives in 2004 found a way to capture tens of thousands of dollars not intended for their use, according to documents obtained by the Tulsa World.

The bulk of the money came from legislators who thought it was going to the state Republican Party. Unbeknownst to some of these lawmakers, the money was diverted to the Oklahoma County Republican Party’s coffers, where the House PAC gained access to spend it for key races across the state.

Legislators are prohibited by state law from making contributions directly to the House Republican’s political action committee.

Whether the PAC’s actions under the leadership of chairman Lance Cargill were illegal apparently is being sorted out by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

Cargill, who is now speaker of the House, remains silent on questions about what kind of arrangements the PAC had with Oklahoma County Republicans, sticking to a statement he made on Sept. 20.

Asked to comment on questions about the diverted money, Cargill issued a statement saying, “I did not solicit, receive, deposit or expend any Victory Fund checks.”

Although the Victory Fund is not an actual entity, it is the term used by Republicans to refer to any party money raised for campaigns.

Checks to state party: Documents show that former House Speaker Todd Hiett and eight other lawmakers wrote checks to the state party, but the money ended up with the Oklahoma County Republican Party.

In all, House members put up a total of $48,000 that ended up at the disposal of the Oklahoma County party.

Hiett has said that Cargill, chairman of of the House PAC in 2004, should be able to explain how the state party’s money ended up with the county party.

Republicans took notice when GOP stalwart Ray Vaughn, a former state representative who is now an Oklahoma County commissioner, declared he was not pleased that his check was diverted. Vaughn said he remembers sending the check to the State Party Headquarters at 4031 North Lincoln Blvd. The Oklahoma County Republican Party rents space from the state party at the same address.

Rep. Susan Winchester, RChickasha, said there was no way that she would have donated money to Oklahoma County, rather than giving it to Grady County where she lives.

Paying for polling: Documents obtained by the World indicate that the PAC headed by Cargill had a role in directing the funds to specific candidates involved in tough races.

According to invoices presented by pollsters to the Oklahoma County Republicans, the PAC had a role in getting the county to foot the bill.

According to an invoice dated Oct. 29, 2004, pollster Bill Shapard conducted six surveys of key House races, all outside Oklahoma County.

Shapard sent the bill to the Oklahoma County party, and the party paid the bill.

A notation on the invoice states that Aaron Currey, then executive director of the House PAC, “instructed” Shapard’s firm to send the bill over to the Oklahoma County Republican Party. Currey could not be reached for comment. Shapard confirmed the polls were conducted for the Republican House PAC.

A notation on another invoice obtained by the World indicates that polling done by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates at a cost of $15,050 was paid jointly, with the House PAC footing the bill for $5,000 and the Oklahoma County party picking up the rest.

Fount Holland, the House Republican PAC’s primary consultant, also served as a paid consultant to individual candidates.

Several of the lawmakers contacted said they did not know the House PAC polling of their races was being conducted, even though Holland was consulting for their campaigns.

Holland said there was no law preventing him from serving as a consultant for both the Republican House PAC and individual candidates. He said he did not use information resulting from the House PAC polling when he was advising individual candidates. If the PAC information was used to the benefit of a candidate, it would have to be reported as an in-kind contribution, Holland said.

Over the limit: Questions have arisen on whether some candidates benefited from contributions exceeding the $5,000 limit. Records filed in 2004 by the Republican House PAC failed to delineate how much the PAC actually was giving to specific candidates, as required by ethics rules.

The only notation was “candidate contribution - campaign.” When the World pointed out this lack of information, the House PAC filed an amended report shortly after noon Friday, which was three years after the expenditures had been made.

The revised record showed that Republican incumbent Stuart Ericson received a $4,000 contribution from the House PAC. In addition, Cole Hargrave conducted a poll in his race, costing another $2,450, while Shapard’s firm conducted a survey in that race costing $500.

Ericson lost the race. However, Republicans were successful in capturing command of the House for the first time since the 1920s, when they held it for only a short time.

Another lawmaker, Rep. Tad Jones, R-Claremore, received $4,000 from the House PAC. In addition, two polls — one costing $2,450 and another costing $500 — were conducted on his behalf.

Possible Ethics Commission probe: State Republican Party Chairman Gary Jones confirmed in mid-September that the party’s attorney had informed him that the state Ethics Commission was asking some Republicans to appear, although he did not know their names.

However, the state Ethics Commission refuses to comment on whether it is investigating. Marilyn Hughes, executive director of the Ethics Commission, also declined to discuss whether the House Republican PAC could legally direct Oklahoma County to pay its bills.

Meeting behind closed doors to decide whether ethics rules have been broken, the commission has the choice of issuing a private reprimand, a public reprimand, calling for a civil fine or doing nothing.

A state law prohibits “a campaign contribution to be made to a particular candidate or committee through an intermediary or conduit” to evade reporting requirements or exceed contribution limits.

Richard Morrissette, a Democratic representative and an attorney, said his interpretation would be that this law prohibits the PAC from directing the county to pay for polls conducted for the benefit of the political action committee.

“If the factual scenario is that the expense was done for the candidate under the direction of the PAC, that could be a criminal offense,” Morrissette said.

Willful violation of the Oklahoma statute could result in a felony conviction and fine up to four times the amount exceeding the contribution limit or imprisonment for up to a year, or both. If the contribution amount in question is less than $5,000, a willful violator could be found guilty of a misdemeanor.

Mick Hinton (405) 528-2465

By MICK HINTON World Capitol Bureau


(1) readers have commented on this story so far. Tell us what you think below!

1. 9/30/2007 8:57:52 AM, David,
I dont understand the consultant Holland's comment ..Are we to believe that the knowledge which he gleaned from those polls paid for by the county party would not benefit his clients like Representative Ericson? These folks are running a shell game evidenced by not even reporting who they are contributing to. At the least there is a foul oder coming from the Republicans in OKC. Speaker Cargill should resign.

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