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Traveling with an actual dump truck as they canvass voters door-to-door across the state, a nonpartisan group of volunteers appear determined to elect honorable candidates of any party as Oklahoma’s top political leaders face scandal after scandal.
“We’re trying to build awareness for the campaign, trying to build awareness of the scandals that have plagued this state. We wanted to highlight [them] so people start paying more attention,” Clean Up Oklahoma organizer Jay Williams told The Black Wall Street Times over the phone just before his group began canvassing Broken Arrow neighborhoods near Tulsa on Saturday, June 4.
The goal to elect corruption-free candidates remains an uphill battle, but the idea is simple. The group publicly highlights information about any candidate’s past or current behavior that negatively impacts Oklahoma taxpayers and encourages all candidates to sign their anti-corruption pledge. The pledge requires candidates to: prevent politicians, staff and donors from profiting at the taxpayer’s expense, strengthen open records laws, and return power to voters, according to the Clean Up Oklahoma website.
Each week the group talks with voters in different parts of the state and plans to utilize its resources to campaign for candidates of any party who sign the anti-corruption pledge.
“We will be all over Oklahoma from now until the election. And when election time comes, we’ll be making phone calls, sending texts, and knocking on doors to let the voters know who’s with us and who isn’t,” Williams said.
Governor’s scandals spark grassroots group: Clean Up Oklahoma
Williams said the group started as a grassroots movement on Facebook and continued to build following high-profile scandals involving current, one-term Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt and members of his cabinet, such as Republican Secretary of Education Ryan Walters.
On their website, Clean Up Oklahoma lists controversial decisions made by the Governor’s Office dating back to 2019 as evidence of corruption. Meanwhile, reports released in recent months by online news outlets the Frontier and Oklahoma Watch have catapulted the issue of corruption to the forefront of this year’s upcoming elections in June and November.
Most recently, a 30-second campaign ad released by Governor Stitt’s team has drawn scrutiny and a possible criminal investigation. In the ad, Stitt spends a substantial amount of time promoting the attorney general he appointed in 2021. AG O’Connor appears prominently in the ad, even though he has his own election coming up during the primaries on June 28.
“Stitt and O’Connor fought Biden’s vaccine mandate and won, and led the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade,” the commercial said. “This is Oklahoma’s turnaround.”
The ad, which the team booked for Tulsa and OKC television markets this month at a cost of $300,000, began airing within 30 days of the primary election.
Oklahoma’s campaign finance laws prohibit candidate committees from campaigning for other candidates through “electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary or runoff election. It also places limits of $2,900 per election on how much a candidate committee can support another candidate’s campaign, according to a report from Oklahoma Watch which cited the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
Clean Up Oklahoma’s Scandal-timeline.
Campaigning against corruption
In response to the controversial ads, Republican and Democratic lawmakers sent a joint letter to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater this week asking him to open an investigation.
“The intent is clear: with his hand-picked Attorney General lagging in the polls, Governor Stitt is spending his own campaign funds to help,” the lawmakers wrote.
Attorney General John O’Connor, who was once rated unanimously unqualified for a federal judgeship by a committee of the American Bar Association in 2018, faces Gentner Drummond in the Republican Primary for Attorney General on June 28.
“I consider this a serious matter,” Oklahoma County DA Prater said in a statement. “I will respect the lawmakers’ request and investigate to determine if evidence exists to prove a violation of Oklahoma criminal statutes.”
Governor Stitt now plans to pull his ads from the airwaves after DA Prater’s announcement, according to a June 8 report in the Oklahoman.
For their part, Clean Up Oklahoma organizer Jay Williams said the nonpartisan political organization doesn’t care about promoting one party over the other. They simply want all candidates to commit to the anti-corruption pledge, even those currently swimming in controversy. Williams said there’s still opportunity for Stitt to sign the pledge and break away from any wrongdoing in which he may currently be involved.
“We’re not campaigning against Stitt, we’re campaigning against corruption. And he’s either with us or he isn’t,” Williams told The Black Wall Street Times.
The group continues to wait for Governor Stitt and others to sign their anti-corruption pledge.