Cities: March 2011 Archives

Oklahoma City is in the middle of its "non-partisan" elections, and someone is spending big money to influence the outcome:

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 ยง527 group, which made no direct contributions to candidates but instead ran its own parallel campaigns to support its favored candidates.

Oklahoma City historian Doug Loudenback says that, although his preferences largely coincided with those implicitly backed by Momentum, he's concerned about the lack of transparency:

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'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.

The style of the flyers is highly reminiscent of the work of consultants Fount Holland and Karl Ahlgren. The team also handled the Dewey Bartlett Jr for Mayor campaign. They are quite fond of the Impact font seen in the anti-Brian Walters flyer.

What's fascinating is that the Momentum group is using national politics in supposedly non-partisan city council races. We saw this in Tulsa, as Bartlett Jr's main campaign theme was that Democratic nominee Tom Adelson had given money to the Democratic Party and raised money for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. (Never mind that Bartlett Jr had lent his name to the reelection of Democrat Kathy Taylor, before her decision not to run for re-election.)

But in Oklahoma City, as Doug Loudenback points out, the Momentum group is using whichever ideological appeal will work in a given district, with no attempt to maintain consistency. In one district they attack an incumbent for being insufficiently conservative, linking him with Pres. Obama. In another district, they attack a challenger for being too conservative, and they approvingly link their preferred candidate with a liberal, openly homosexual state legislator.

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.

Loudenback notes a push-polling campaign against an opponent of a Momentum candidate for a race yet to be settled in an upcoming runoff.

I think we are likely to see this approach spread, sadly. The only remedy is for voters to bother to inform themselves and for grassroots candidates to work harder to get their message directly to the voters, one voter at a time. At the same time, we need stronger disclosure rules, rules that don't allow a flood of untraceable money to flow into a campaign in the last two weeks, after the pre-election filing deadline. Contributions and expenditures should be electronically reported all the way up until election day.

MORE: The Oklahoma Gazette has more about Momentum and the other groups trying to influence the Oklahoma City council elections.

RELATED, in an odd sort of way: I finally figured out why photos of Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett are a bit unnerving. It's that uncanny resemblance to wife-stomping western swing bandleader (and Oklahoma native) Spade Cooley.


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This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from March 2011.

Cities: February 2011 is the previous archive.

Cities: April 2011 is the next archive.

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