By Ben Allen, KOSU
There’s only one statewide office up for vote Tuesday in
Oklahoma, so the political establishment has turned its attention to a few key local races. One of those involves the State Senate Appropriations Chair, Clark Jolley (R–Edmond).
Fellow Republican Paul Blair, a local pastor and former professional football player, is challenging Jolley. Both seem to be staking out similar conservative positions, yet money is flowing into the race at an impressive rate.
“There’s no question, I have been a conservative champion for Edmond. It’s just you can’t beat somebody by saying they’ve done a good job,” said Clark Jolley.
His priorities include cutting taxes, fighting President Obama’s health care law, and believes in a right to life. Then there’s Paul Blair. He supports cutting taxes, fighting President Obama’s health care law, and believes in a right to life. So what’s the difference?
“They campaign as conservatives that want fiscal responsibility and lower taxes but then once they get in office, they don’t do that. So all of them campaign, but very few of them actually carry out their promises,” said Paul Blair.
He says he’ll be different. Blair says he decided to put his name on the ballot when the Republican controlled House and Senate couldn’t come up with a plan to reduce spending. But in the latest rankings from the conservative newspaper the Oklahoma Constitution, Jolley ranked just as conservative as Representative Mike Reynolds, who once wrote a bill banning embryonic stem cell research. Still, Jolley understands why he’s getting challenged from the right…
“I think that’s the message that he’s trying to drive home because that’s the only way you can beat a conservative, is to say I’m more conservative than that conservative,” said Jolley.
“That’s the way you win an election, is to try to paint the other person as an extremist liberal.”
Their platforms may be the same, but the spending on the race is drastically different. Blair has raised $64,000 and Jolley $282,000. And the divide widens when looking at independent expenditures.
“If we both profess to be the same thing, then why are the lobbyists, special interests investing nearly a million dollars to keep that guy in office and to keep me out of office?”, Blair wonders.
Well, not quite a million, closer to half a million. A good chunk is coming from the business backed Coalition for Oklahoma’s Future. They’ve invested about 100-thousand dollars in support of Jolley, whether through TV or mail. So who is this group? Well, they formed just a couple months ago, and already have accumulated 3-hundred thousand dollars. The big donors? Chesapeake Energy, The Chickasaw Nation, Williams, and Flintco, among others.
“When you don’t have any limitation on the contributions that can be made and when there’s no limit on who can make those contributions, you have substantially larger contributions made by both individuals and other kinds of organizations that could not have been made previously,” said Attorney Lee Slater, expert in campaign finance law.
Slater says because of the Citizens United decision, there’s no limit to donations to independent groups, like the Coalition for Oklahoma’s Future. I reached out to the chair of the group, but he didn’t return my repeated requests for comment. Representative Jolley can’t have contact with the Coalition, but isn’t surprised by their spending.
“There’s only 48 people in this state that get to help make decisions on behalf of folks. It’s a big deal. Absolutely, I’m not surprised that we have ads for state Senate, because we’ve have ads for state House and state Senate for years on TV.”
Inside the packed Panera at a tony plaza in Edmond, only a couple people even knew about the race, despite the barrage of advertising and mailings. Whoever they supported, they all said they’ve been turned off by the negative campaigning, especially from the independent groups. Dennis Randall’s from Oklahoma City.
“Those ads aren’t cheap. But they’re very poorly done and in very poor taste.”
Others said because of the ads, they would instead vote on who was more sincere. They just don’t have the time to figure out what is what anymore.
One thing is for sure: money is having a renewed effect in politics, and you can either thank or blame Citizens United.
Voters make their choice next Tuesday, June 26th. Polls are open from 7 AM until 7 PM, and we’ll have live coverage here on KOSU once they close at 7.