See who’s pulling the strings of Oklahoma’s new dark money group

Official portrait of former Oklahoma state house Speaker T.W. Shannon, R
T.W. Shannon; Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

An Oklahoma City construction executive and two state lobbyists with ties to a federal political action committee may have found the latest wrinkle in spending big on elections without revealing the source of their funds: registering as a for-profit corporation. Oklahomans for a Conservative Future Inc., a freshly-minted business in the Sooner State, has already spent $300,000 supporting the underdog campaign of T.W. Shannon in the Republican special primary this June. Because it’s not organized as a political committee, the company won’t have to disclose the source of its funds to the Federal Election Commission. And because it’s not a 501(c)4 social welfare nonprofit, it doesn’t face the limits on how much of its income it can spend on politics that tax law puts on groups like Crossroads GPS or the League of Conservation Voters.

Update: Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center tells Sunlight in an e-mail that avoiding political disclosure is not as simple as registering a for-profit corporation: “Regardless of the corporate form or tax status this group chooses, the federal law definition of “political committee” applies the same way—(1) has the group made expenditures and/or received contributions exceeding $1,000 in a calendar year?  And (2) does it have as its major purpose influencing federal elections?  If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then Oklahomans for a Conservative Future Inc. is a “political committee” under federal law and must register with the FEC and disclose its contributors.” As of publication, OCF has not registered as a political committee with the FEC. It is not clear what type of business the corporation — which lists its address at an Oklahoma City UPS Store — engages in.

Xavier Neira, vice president of Manhattan Construction, and Chad Alexander and Stephanie Milligan of Capitol Insight are the sole incorporators of Oklahomans for a Conservative Future, according to publicly-available files on the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s website. The corporation registered with the state on Feb. 5, just days after Shannon declared his candidacy. It has already spent a little more than $200,000 on TV ads, first reported by Bloomberg, touting the former House Speaker as a “conservative champion” of “life, the Second Amendment and our Constitution.” The balance of its spending so for, about $100,000, paid for direct mailings supporting the candidate, according to records collected by Sunlight’s Real-Time FEC.

Shannon, a member of the Chickesaw Nation (note: a previous version of this story erroneously stated that Shannon is a member of the Choctaw nation.) and the Oklahoma State House of Representative’s first black speaker, is running against sitting Rep. James Lankford, R, to fill the seat of Sen. Tom Coburn, R, who will leave the upper chamber at the end of the current Congress in part due to health issues. The winner of the Republican primary will be strongly favored to win the general election in a state that Romney carried by 33 points.

Though OCF is still in its infancy, its founders are no strangers to Oklahoma politics. Neira has contributed $54,550 to state and federal candidates since 1989 and is a current board member of Maverick PAC Oklahoma, a federally registered political committee that gave $4,000 to Lankford in 2010, among other Oklahoma Republicans. Alexander, who served as a congressional aide to J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman from the Sooner State, served as chairman of the state GOP, while Milligan is Maverick PAC Oklahoma’s administrative director, according to her LinkedIn profile.

As a corporation making independent expenditures, Oklahomans for a Conservative Future is not required to disclose its sources of funding to the Federal Election Commission. Voice messages left for each of OCF’s three founders for comment were not immediately returned. This post will be updated if and when we receive a response.

Lobbying disclosure records at the Oklahoma Secretary of State show Alexander and Milligan lobbied for a nearly identical slate of clients in 2013, ranging from the Boys and Girls Club of America to Oklahoma Roofing and Sheet Metal (you can view their full client list on the Oklahoma Ethics Commission website) where you will find services as well.

Though recent polls show Lankford with a commanding lead over Shannon, his campaign may be gaining steam among the party’s populist wing. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Sarah Palin officially endorsed the former Speaker: “T.W.’s opponent has the backing of Beltway insiders, but T.W. has the passion and experience We the People need in Washington” the former governor wrote on her Facebook wall.

Candidate committees must submit their paper pre-election financial reports to the FEC by June 12.