New campaign finance reports reveal for the first time the primary funders behind opposition to last year’s state question proposing a 1-cent sales tax for education.

Those funders include the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and several prominent energy companies.

The reports also show that backers of the penny tax, which was shot down by voters in November, outspent their opposition more than seven to one.

On the pro side was Oklahoma’s Children Our Future, a “super PAC” that raised $6.6 million in 2016, including large amounts from education groups, Tulsa philanthropist Stacy Schusterman and University of Oklahoma President David Boren, who led the campaign.

Opposed was the independent expenditure group Oklahoma Deserves Better, a super PAC which received almost $900,000 in donations, mostly from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and energy companies such as Unit Corp., Chesapeake, Continental Resources and Devon.

Voters in November rejected State Question 779, a proposal to implement a penny sales tax statewide to fund $5,000 teacher pay raises and other educational initiatives.

Backers of the measure spent more than a year generating public support and raising money, while opponent Oklahoma Deserves Better formed in late October, just weeks before the Nov. 8 election.

PACs were required to file financial statements covering Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission by Jan. 31. PACs are required to disclose names of donors of more than $50 and itemize expenditures of more than $200.

The largest donations given by the end of 2016 to Oklahoma Deserves Better were:

  • $231,139 from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
  • $200,000 from Forward Oklahoma City, a chamber-led economic development initiative.
  • $50,000 from Sue Ann Arnall, philanthropist and ex-wife of billionaire oilman Harold Hamm.
  • $40,000 from Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores.
  • $25,000 from the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association.
  • $25,000 from Unit Corp., a Tulsa-based energy company.
  • $20,000 from Steven Agee, dean of Oklahoma City University’s Meinders School of Business.
  • $20,000 from Clayton Bennett, chairman of the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team.
  • $20,000 from Chesapeake Operating LLC, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy Corp.
  • $20,000 from Continental Resources, an Oklahoma City-based oil producer.
  • $20,000 from Devon Energy Corp.

The largest donors given by Dec. 31 to Oklahoma’s Children Our Future were:

  • $2 million from Stacy Schusterman, chair of Samson Energy Co. in Tulsa.
  • $1.9 million from Stand for Children in Portland. (Stand for Children Oklahoma coordinated the yes-vote campaign.)
  • $750,000 from the National Education Association in Washington, D.C.
  • $462,000 from OU President Boren.
  • $350,000 from the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • $300,000 from the Chickasaw Nation division of commerce.
  • $250,000 from the Chickasaw Nation
  • $250,000 from the Tulsa Community Foundation
  • $200,000 from Rooney Holdings, a Florida-based general contractor with administrative offices in Tulsa.
  • $100,000 from George Kaiser, chairman of BOK Financial Corp. in Tulsa.
  • $100,000 from Whitten Burrage, an Oklahoma City law firm.
  • $100,000 from the Choctaw Nation
  • $60,000 from Oklahomans for a Prosperous Future, a social-welfare nonprofit, or “dark money” group.

Oklahoma’s Children Our Future’s largest expenditure was nearly $3 million, spent on ads at Mundy Katowitz Media, a Washington, D.C.-based advertising firm.

Oklahoma Deserves Better spent most its funds, nearly $750,000, on advertising services at VI Marketing and Branding in Oklahoma City. It reported spending another $100,000 on various yard signs and flyers, temporary staff and consulting. The PAC ended 2016 with a balance of $11,284, according to the report.

Teachers here are among the lowest paid in the country, and supporters of the proposal said the revenue was needed to address teacher salaries. A portion of the tax revenue also would have supported higher education and career and technology education.

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber issued a public statement on Oct. 31 opposing SQ 779 out of concerns the added sales tax would harm Oklahoma City’s future growth by making it one of the most heavily taxed cities in the country. The Chamber also said the proposal “does nothing” to address the teacher shortage in Oklahoma.

In the statement, the Chamber vowed to lead a collaborative effort during the 2017 legislative session to fund teacher salary increases.  The session starts Monday.

Cynthia Reid, the chamber’s vice president of marketing and communications, said teacher salary increases are the chamber’s No. 1 priority for the legislative session. They are working with legislators and considering a number of funding mechanisms.

“There are some things that are going to be more palatable than others,” Reid said. “We are looking at multiple options and trying to find the best, least-harmful way to do this.”


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Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 325-2084 or jpalmer@oklahomawatch.org. Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC