Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dirty Politics: Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum

Initially written March 16, 2011; edited March 29 to add Momentum's March 24 Form C-1 reflecting contributions of $415,000, and a Momentum exemplary Ward 2 direct mailer.

Today's March 16 Oklahoma Gazette carries an article that asks some of the right questions, but it is unable to provide any of the right answers. The story, written by Clifton Adcock, is called, Who’s behind the money?

Largely, the article attempts to explain differences between traditional Political Action Committees and §527 groups, and then gives focus to campaign activities during the just past and ongoing city council races. The article perhaps did as well as could be done to explain differences between more traditional PACs and §527's in a short article on a complex topic. I'm certainly no expert on those differences, but this Wikipedia article seems to do a pretty good job in attempting to do so.

One difference is plain enough. Traditional PACs may make direct contributions to individual candidates of up to $5000 per candidate and publicly report who they are, but §527 groups may not make direct contributions to candidates at all. Instead, they run shadow or parallel campaigns to support candidates of their liking.

Two groups directly or indirectly supported incumbents Salyer, ward 6, and Ryan, ward 8, and supported challenger Greenwell against incumbent Walters in ward 5. Sam Bowman not running for re-election in ward 2, Charlie Swinton received those 2 groups' favor in that ward.

The two groups were/are the Chesapeake Oklahoma PAC, which made direct contributions to the foregoing candidates' campaigns, and the Committee For Oklahoma City Momentum, a §527 group, which made no direct contributions to candidates but instead ran its own parallel campaigns to support its favored candidates.

Which gets me to what I really want to bitch about -- the Committee For Oklahoma City Momentum.

This article has nothing to do with my own choices in the city council election. As I've made abundantly clear in earlier articles, I strongly opposed the Tea-Partiers/Windsor Hills Baptist Church candidates, and I strongly favored re-election of my own council person, ward 6 incumbent Meg Ryan, in her re-election bid. I was also pleased that Pat Ryan won re-election in ward 8 and that David Greenwell defeated incumbent Brian Walters in ward 5. I pretty much ignored ward 2 during the primary but am paying attention to it now. For the ward races decided on March 1, my preferences were the same as those of the Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum.

But, my preferences are quite irrelevant to the point of this article, just as are your individual preferences. Instead, this article has to do with public knowledge of (1) who are those who form organizations to influence our votes, (2) how much they contribute, (3) how they decide who to favor, and (4) dirty-trick tactics used during campaigns that leave no footprints in their wake, i.e., public accountability.

Right now, we don't know (1) who the contributors to "Momentum" are, (2) how much they contributed, or (3) who made decisions about how the money got spent. There is every reason to believe, and no reason to doubt, that the Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum is largely funded by some or several of the big moneyed interests in our city.

It takes no leap of faith to conclude that this group was the one that outgoing ward 2 councilman Sam Bowman had in mind when he said at the March 1 City Council meeting:
And then, in these last few weeks, big money has gotten involved to the extent, my opinion, it has just made a mockery of our city elections. * * * The people, I think, need to know who's behind the money..."

We also know, from observation, that the Momentum group is seriously lacking in principles or ethics. A good example is provided by comparing the direct mail advertising that Momentum did in the ward 5 and ward 6 campaigns.

Ward 5 Campaign by Momentum. The article notes that at least some of Momentum's advertising in ward 5 was directed to making the point that Walters wasn't really a conservative and likening him to or aligning him with President Obama. Now, I'm one who admires our president and is not generally conservative and who has not been a fan of Brian Walters, he being the only council member to oppose MAPS 3 even being submitted to a vote of the people.

That said, Momentum's direct mailing ads in Ward 5 were clearly a hatchet job. Anyone with a brain knows that Walters IS very conservative and is no fan of our President. And the bit about Walters voting for tax increases ... how misleading can Momentum get since the incumbent council members in wards 4 and 6 which it supported did precisely the same thing -- but were not faulted for doing so in either the ward 4 or 6 elections?

Ward 6 Campaign by Momentum. Drive a few miles north to ward 6 and the tone of Momentum's direct mail ads was radically different ...

In this ward, Tea-Partier VanManen was Salyer's opposition, and, in this ward, Momentum emphasized the values of being non-partisan and progressive, showing endorsements by Al McAffrey, a popular and openly gay democrat house member, and Mayor Cornett, our popular mayor and a known republican. The ad featuring Rep. McAffrey quoted him as saying,
I strongly encourage you to go to your polls and support Meg Salyer. She is a non-partisan progressive leader who is moving Oklahoma City forward. We cannot allow a handful of Tea Party extremists to take over our community.
The Bottom Line. Apparently, Momentum's bottom line solely relates to anticipated results. In ward 5, Momentum waved the ultra-conservative flag and said that Walters wasn't conservative enough, but in ward 6 it waved the moderate flag and knocked ultra-conservatives, a good part of ward 6 being progressive and moderate in its political makeup. Momentum's unprincipled approach is to do whatever it takes to win.

The Runoff Election in Ward 2. Now, in the last election, the ward 2 runoff, Momentum is supporting Charlie Swinton just as it did in the primary. When this article was originally written on March 16, there have been no direct mailings; as of this March 29 update, there have been at least three, and each of them follow the nasty approach that Momentum took in the Ward 5 primary. There, recall that Momentum characterized incumbent Brian Walters as not conservative enough. In Ward 2, Momentum casts Ed Shadid as being way too liberal — he might be a good choice for San Fransisco but not for Oklahoma City, one mailer says. There has been some push-pull phone campaigning, judging by multiple reports, and as evidenced by a full first-hand report. The kernel of that report is ...
Phone caller/surveyor: "Would you be more or less likely to vote for Ed Shadid if you knew he ...
  • was for abortion rights
  • was for gay marriage
  • was for less military spending?"
Like such issues will be involved in being a member of a non-partisan city council whose function is to make decisions affecting the city. Right? Wrong -- unless it should be anticipated that the Oklahoma City Council will be called upon to take action on any of those subjects during the next four years, or ever.

Memo to Oklahoma City Big Money: You don't have to be outrageously deceitful to run an effective political campaign. When and if you do, some will be moved to call you to task to show your true colors and/or to vote exactly the opposite of what you intend. You may think that citizens don't think about your inconsistent political activity, but at least some of us do. And, if, as I suspect, Momentum is funded by a few or several big moneyed interests in the city, such campaigns also reflect the arrogant attitude of those moneyed-interests in assuming that ordinary voters are so damn dumb as not to be able to see what is going on.

The lack of identification and accountability of contributors to the Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum is appalling and pathetic, or so it seems to me. If these guys were living in the 1940s, their mommas would rightly stick a red bar of Lifebuoy soap in their mouths. Every member of the Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum should be ashamed, and every citizen should be appalled and take note of Momentum's political advertisements during the ward 2 runoff election.

Being for the "right" candidates (whomever a citizen or a committee perceives them to be) is not all that there is. Doing so for good and consistent and transparent reasons — and not being just plain dirt-red dirty — are also part of the mix of what makes up responsible campaigns and campaigners.

For further reading, see Michael Bates' Shadowy 527 jumps into Oklahoma City election. Among other things, he opines,
It's obvious enough that there's some project that someone wants pushed through. Perhaps they want to steer funding to a favored developer or general contractor. Control over the Core-to-Shore redevelopment area might be involved. Voters just gave city government a big pot of money to play with, so it would be worth investing money in a campaign to get control of it.

Perhaps they want to clear away urban design and historic preservation obstacles, the sort that slowed down the undevelopment of Sandridge Commons -- tearing down historic structures, like the India Temple building, which once housed the State Legislature, for a 1960s-style open plaza, the sort that has never worked as a public place. Historic preservation has played a key, but underappreciated, role in Oklahoma City's resurgence, while too many people believe that the city's momentum comes from magically transferring money from citizens to contractors and basketball team owners.
And exemplar mailer by Momentum in the Ward 2 runoff is shown below:

To see more of Momentum's Ward 2 mailers, click here.

Addendum. On March 24, Momentum filed with the City Clerk its first Form C-1, the form used to report contributions and expenditures. This filing reflects activity from February 16 through March 20, barely over one month's time. As you see below, $415,000 was contributed, all from "A Better Oklahoma City, Inc.," and $409,764.17 was expended. The particular expenditures are not broken down by wards. The one-page report barely fills says very little else. Click on the image for a larger view.

Both the Oklahoma Gazette (March 28) and Oklahoman (March 29) have written articles looking as deeply as can be done into Momentum's hidden structure — but that's not very far at all. The real, the nitty-gritty, detail, is protected from disclosure under the law.

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Anonymous said...

National political issues used to muddy the waters on a local political level--I wish more attention could be drawn to this. One hears about the "downtown power-brokers"...but who are they?

I think local media either know and are afraid to say, or are actual mouthpieces for these folks.

Doug Dawg said...

Anon, I suspect that you are 100% correct in everything that you just said. You and I could easily throw half a dozen darts and get at least 5 of the 6 correct ... but, still, we'd be guessing.

Wouldn't it be grand to be entitled to know WHO the contributors to Momentum were and are? Then, we'd not need to guess any more.

Louise said...

Will the Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum at least have to file a report on the amount of monry spent/contributed (without names)?

Doug Dawg said...

Louise, I don't know. I'm trying to figure that out, too. Perhaps some other commenter will be able answer that question.

Doug Dawg said...

Louise, I'm still trying to understand what any reporting requirements are. No final resolution yet, but you might see a couple of articles:

September 28, 2010, Washington Post article

September 22, 2010, article

I'm still looking.

Michael Bates said...

The reporting requirements are driven by the Political Subdivision Ethics Act, an Oklahoma law governing campaign reporting for city candidates and issues. The candidates will have to report contributions two Mondays prior to the election, but I don't think a PAC like the Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum has to report its donors on the same schedule.

The Ward 5 mailers look very much like the work of Fount Holland and Karl Ahlgren.

Anonymous said...

Michael, I was thinking the exact same thing as far as who the consultants are... They really love to harp on the whole "Candidate X and Obama are BFF" spiel.

Doug Dawg said...

I read through the Political Subdivision Ethics Act, Title 51 Oklahoma Statutes, Section 301, et seq. but I did not notice any helpful reference. Perhaps I didn't look closely enough.

Doug Dawg said...

Following up on the Political Subdivision Ethics Act, Title 51 Oklahoma Statutes, Section 315 provides for the time by which reports are required to be filed under the Act. When there are general elections (which the ward 2 runoff is), a provision reads, "A.3. A further report of a candidate or committee, as herein defined, shall be filed on or before the tenth day preceding the date of the General Election and shall include all contributions accepted and all expenditures made from the close of the reporting period required by paragraph 2 of this section through the fifteenth day preceding the date of the General Election;"

By my reckoning, the 10th day before April 5 is Saturday, March 26. I don't know how non-business days are counted for this purpose, but the filing day would either be the last business day BEFORE that Saturday (March 25) or the next business day AFTER that Saturday (March 28).

More, whether this provision applies to §527 organizations, I do not know.

Anonymous said...

I was going to vote for Charlie Swinton until last night when i received a mailer from Momentum "Birds of a Feather...." I now will vote for Ed Shadid. Who are these people anyway...?? Does negativity like this actually get the voters out??? Bev

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the humor in the birds of a feather piece. Love the left wing tie in with the birds. lol