Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information after press time for Tuesday’s newspaper late Monday.
More than $12 million in independent expenditures, most of it from untraceable sources, has been poured into the Oklahoma gubernatorial race since Aug. 25, records show, with almost $10.3 million of that benefitting Democrat Joy Hofmeister.
Counting independent expenditures targeting Stitt since last year and more recent attacks on Hofmeister, independent expenditures have far outpaced the two candidates’ own campaigns’ spending. On Monday, Stitt reported spending almost $8.4 million for his entire campaign through Oct. 24, and Hofmeister reported spending $2.8 million.
By law, independent expenditures cannot be coordinated with candidate campaigns.
Also Monday, it was revealed that Stitt put almost $2 million of his own money into his campaign during October. The Republican Governor’s Association has stepped in with $1.6 million in independent expenditures on his behalf, which accounts for just about all of the independent expenditures benefitting Stitt.
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Stitt, a Republican who became wealthy in the mortgage lending business, spent $5 million of his own money in winning his first term four years ago but had not yet reached into his own pocket until Oct. 7, according to campaign finance reports filed Monday.
In yet another twist on Monday, former Oklahoma Republican Congressman J.C. Watts said he will vote for Hofmeister, a former Republican who switched parties last year in large part because of Stitt. Watts’ endorsement, in a 30-second video, was released not by Hofmeister but by the dark money independent expenditure organization Imagine This Oklahoma.
A state hero who starred at quarterback for the University of Oklahoma and became the first and still only Black statewide official when he was elected to the Corporation Commission in 1990, Watts says he’s voting for Hofmeister because “all this scandal and corruption is just too much.”
In Oklahoma Ethics Commission filings Monday, Imagine This Oklahoma said it has spent $5.2 million on Hofmeister’s behalf. Previously reported was another $143,081.69.
An apparently related PAC, The Oklahoma Project, has targeted Stitt from last year. On Friday, it reported spending $3.6 million to back Hofmeister since Aug. 24.
Oklahoma’s Children Our Future and The Oklahoma Liberty Initiative reported independent expenditures of $500,000 and $337,950.60, respectively, to further Hofmeister’s campaign.
Imagine This Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Project and Oklahoma’s Children Our Future all have the same treasurer, Oklahoma City businesswoman Danielle Ezell.
As it happens, Watts is a director of Oklahoma City’s Paycom Inc. Paycom’s president and chief executive officer, Chad Richison, is known not to be a Stitt fan, and Stitt has said he suspects Richison of being behind much of the dark money that’s been spent against him.
Stitt came out with his own high-level endorsement on Monday, from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and announced last Wednesday rallies featuring Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Oklahoma City and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in Tulsa.
Hofmeister has a series of five smaller events scheduled around Tulsa and Bartlesville the same day.
Oklahoma Ethics Commission filings over the past few days show that Stitt loaned his campaign $1 million on Oct. 7 and another $985,000 on Friday.
Aside from the loans, Stitt’s campaign listed contributions of almost $2.2 million for the Aug. 8-Oct. 24 reporting period. Separately, the campaign filed what are called Continuing Reports of Contributions totaling $122,100 for money received since Oct. 24.
Stitt’s campaign listed expenditures of just under $3.1 million for the most recent reporting period.
It listed cash on hand of a little over $1 million, slightly more than the amount of the Oct. 7 loan. The cash on hand figure does not include the second loan or receipts from the continuing contribution reports.
Hofmeister reported contributions of more than $1.5 million during the reporting period and continuing contributions of $53,500. Expenditures were more than $1.7 million, with $284,031.24 in cash.
Congressional candidates, who answer to the Federal Election Commission, also filed preelection reports late last week. Those contained no big surprises.
About $290,000 in independent federal expenditures on Oklahoma races were reported, with more than $200,000 of that spent on behalf of 2nd District Congressman and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Markwayne Mullin.
Almost all of that came through the dark money Defend Us PAC, which was used to help Gentner Drummond defeat incumbent John O’Connor in the Republican Oklahoma attorney general primary in June and which reported spending more than $200,000 on Drummond’s behalf in the upcoming general election.