In an apparent move to bolster his future election prospects, campaign workers for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt have formed two PACs to raise money nationally for other politicians seeking election to federal offices in 2016.
The political action committees were registered in February with the Federal Election Commission and are housed in Pruitt’s state campaign headquarters in downtown Tulsa. The groups raised nearly $228,000 combined from March through June, primarily from corporate executives, corporations and PACs representing companies, FEC records show. The two groups have since raised additional funds, which are due to be reported to the FEC in January.
One of the groups, Oklahoma Strong Leadership PAC, is classified as a multi-candidate political action committee, which means it can accept limited contributions and donate to multiple candidates.
The other group, Liberty 2.0, is a ‘Super PAC,’ meaning it can raise unlimited contributions and spend money on advertising that supports or opposes candidates, although it cannot coordinate with or contribute directly to a candidate’s campaign.
Pruitt, a Republican, ran unopposed last year and cannot run for re-election in 2018. He is considered to be a possible candidate for governor or another office.
Elected officials seeking higher office will often establish multi-candidate PACs to help fundraise for other political candidates, said Lawrence Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C. That helps raise their national profile and create a larger network of fundraisers for themselves in the future.
“I have heard of (state) elected officials with federal ambitions trying to set up PACs to gain political credits,” Noble said. “I guess one of the questions is, does he (the politician) have ambitions for the future?”
Pruitt’s name does not appear on any of the documents establishing either PAC. However, not only are the PACs located in his campaign office, but the primary consultant and fundraiser for his state campaign, Tamara Cornell, is the main consultant, incorporator, record-keeper, vice-treasurer and a board member for both Oklahoma Strong and Liberty 2.0.
Oklahoma Ethics Commission records show Cornell has not been employed by any other state campaign except Pruitt’s. Cornell declined comment on the two PACs.
Other documents confirm Pruitt’s ties to the Oklahoma Strong PAC. In disclosing donations to the PAC, a lobbying group and a corporate PAC both listed Pruitt as the “candidate” being supported by Oklahoma Strong.
Pruitt declined requests for an interview. However, Millan Hupp, who is on the governing boards of Liberty 2.0 and Oklahoma Strong Leadership and is listed as a paid consultant for both groups, issued a statement authorized by Pruitt.
Hupp said that Pruitt serves as “honorary chair” of Oklahoma Strong but does not have a leadership role in Liberty 2.0.
“Liberty 2.0 is an independent expenditure committee formed by individuals who share AG Pruitt’s priorities,” the statement reads.
Hupp did not address questions about whether the groups were formed at the behest of Pruitt or he had a fundraising role in them. Under her name on the statement, Hupp lists her title as “Team Pruitt,” a phrase used by Pruitt’s campaign workers.
Noble said federal election laws probably allow a sitting attorney general to form a federal multi-candidate PAC or a Super PAC to assist other candidates, but it is rare for any sitting politician to set up a Super PAC.
“They won’t set up Super PACs generally, because they could be considered coordinating with them and anything they (Super PACS) do to support them (the politician) would be an illegal contribution,” Noble said. “I haven’t heard of anything like that directly.”
Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate with candidates who benefit from their activities, said Viveca Novak, editorial director at the Center for Responsive Politics, which promotes transparency in government.
When asked whether she had seen a state attorney general form such groups, Novak said she had not.
“I would say that’s pretty unusual,” Novak said.
Sources of Funding
From March to June, Oklahoma Strong Leadership raised $182,198.
Contributors included energy companies and executives, loan company executives, real estate developers, car dealership owners, attorneys and PACs representing drug company Pfizer, Walmart and Fox media company.
A report on political donations made public by the Pfizer PAC refers to Oklahoma Strong Leadership as being directly affiliated with Pruitt.
A Foreign Agents Registration Act statement filed with the U.S. Department of Justice by Dickstein Shapiro LLP, a law and lobbying firm that donated $1,000 to Oklahoma Strong in March, lists Pruitt as the “candidate” represented by the PAC.
Between March and June, Oklahoma Strong received $26,000 in donations from coal and power companies. The largest portion came from Alliance Coal in Tulsa, the company’s executives and their family members.
The Liberty 2.0 has raised $45,500 from six donors since March. The three largest contributors were Louisiana-based Woodvine Group LLC, which owns chemical and industrial equipment firms and made a $25,000 donation; American Energy Partners, which is headed by former Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon and made a $10,000 donation, and Ada-based Legal Shield, formerly known as Prepaid Legal Services.
Noble, of the Campaign Legal Center, said the appearance of conflicts of interest with sitting politicians is a concern when corporations and other interests donate to PACs or campaigns.
“If it is interests who want something from him (the politician), then it does raise appearance issues,” he said.
As attorney general, Pruitt has taken various actions and been given expanded authority in areas related to interests that have donated to the PACs.
In energy, Pruitt has filed several lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency, including one in July asking the court to stop federal plans to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. The suit was later dismissed.
In December, the New York Times reported that Pruitt had sent a letter to the EPA, drafted by Devon Energy lawyers, stating that federal regulators were overestimating the air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new wells in Oklahoma.
In July, Gov. Mary Fallin, acting on a recommendation from Pruitt, issued an executive order requiring many state regulatory boards to submit licensing and prohibition actions to the Attorney General for review before taking action. The order was aimed at keeping the boards exempt from antitrust lawsuits.
Since then, the Oklahoma Board of Nursing, the Real Estate Appraiser Board, the Motor Vehicle Commission and the Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision and other boards have submitted dozens of actions to Pruitt’s office for approval, state records show.
Donations to Others
Both Oklahoma Strong and Liberty 2.0 have, as yet, made few donations this early in the election cycle, with the majority of their expenditures going toward business expenses and fundraising, FEC records show.
Liberty 2.0, which can’t donate to candidates’ campaigns, has not yet purchased advertising, according to the records.
Oklahoma Strong has made two donations to politicians. In March, the PAC made a $1,000 donation to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. On Sept. 30, the day after presidential candidate Jeb Bush visited Oklahoma for a fundraiser and tapped Pruitt to head his campaign’s Restoring Federalism Task Force, Bush’s campaign received a $2,700 donation from Oklahoma Strong.
Oklahoma Strong also paid registration fees at the Conference of Western Attorneys General and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, as well as a $500 donation to the Republican Party of Tulsa County, records show.
The finances of the two organizations are separate from those of Pruitt’s own Attorney General campaign fund.
Since its formation, Pruitt’s 2014 Attorney General campaign committee has raised $712,489 and spent $573,432, despite Pruitt not having an opponent in the primary or general election, The Oklahoman reported in November.
By contrast, Republican State Treasurer Ken Miller, who also ran unopposed in 2014 and is expected to run for governor in 2018, raised $200,000 and spent only $2,679 from his re-election fund.
Oklahoma Ethics Commission records show that contributions going to Pruitt’s state campaign began to drop off early this year, around the time the two new groups were formed.
In explaining the fundraising, Hupp said in her statement that “smart campaigns take nothing for granted.” She added Pruitt is often encouraged to run for office in the future.
“While General Pruitt has made no decisions about seeking office in the future, he is maintaining core campaign functions, including fundraising and organizational activities, to ensure that he is in a position to aggressively pursue such an opportunity.”
Donors to Oklahoma Strong Leadership PACFrom March through June 2015, Oklahoma Strong Leadership PAC received $182,198 in contributions, including the 21 shown below at the maximum amount of $5,000.
|Joseph W. Craft III (Alliance Resources)||OK||3/2/15||$5,000|
|Josephine Freede (Homemaker)||OK||3/2/15||$5,000|
|David M. Green (Hobby Lobby)||OK||3/2/15||$5,000|
|Larry Nichols (Devon Energy)||OK||3/2/15||$5,000|
|Lew Ward (Ward Petroleum)||OK||3/4/2015 - 4/3/2015||$5,000|
|Mike Case (Case Properties)||OK||3/13/15||$5,000|
|Bill Bartman (Center for Consumer Recovery)||OK||3/20/15||$5,000|
|John A. Henry III (JAH Realty)||TX||3/20/15||$5,000|
|William Stuart Price (Kanbar Properties)||OK||4/17/15||$5,000|
|Lauren Craft (homemaker)||CO||4/22/15||$5,000|
|Ryan Craft (grouptweet.com)||CO||4/22/15||$5,000|
|Joseph W. Craft IV (Alliance Resources)||OK||4/24/15||$5,000|
|Mollie Craft (homemaker)||OK||4/24/15||$5,000|
|Howard Rich (real estate, CATO Institute)||PA||4/24/15||$5,000|
|Gary Smith (Dealers Auto Auction)||OK||4/24/15||$5,000|
|Mario Max Fairchild (Automax Auto Group)||OK||5/1/15||$5,000|
|James Norton (Jim Norton Toyota)||OK||5/1/15||$5,000|
|Maurice Kanbar (Kanbar Properties)||OK||6/12/15||$5,000|
|James Glover (Jim Glover Chevrolet)||OK||6/19/15||$5,000|
|Alliance Coal PAC||OK||3/4/15||$5,000|
|Pinnacle West PAC||AZ||3/13/15||$5,000|
Donors to Liberty 2.0 PACBetween March and June 2015, six companies donated to Liberty 2.0, a "Super Pac" that can spend money on advertising in campaigns but can't donate directly to candidates.
|Woodvine Group LLC||LA||6/26/15||$25,000|
|American Energy Partners LP||OK||6/26/15||$10,000|
|Saxum Strategic Communications LLC||OK||5/19/15||$2,500|
|Century Strategies LLC (Ralph Reed)||GA||5/19/15||$1,000|
|Grand Health & Raquet Club||OK||5/29/15||$1,000|