Part 1: Jake Merrick Supported, Then Worked Against By Oklahoma Council For Public Affairs (OCPA) Dark Money Groups

Part 1: Jake Merrick Supported, Then Worked Against By Oklahoma Council For Public Affairs (OCPA) Dark Money Groups

Jake Merrick won a special election for now-Congresswoman Stephanie Bice’s open Senate seat last year.  Senator Merrick is a Conservative, pro-life, pro-2nd amendment, small business owner who has served Oklahoma well since his special election.  Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs (OCPA) dark money helped him in his first election.  Here’s the rub:  After voting YES in committee, he voted NO (on the Senate floor) on a bill to send public money to private schools (voucher – SB1647). This election cycle, OCPA is using many thousands of dollars to influence voters AGAINST HIM through a different dark money group.  

What is “dark money”?  Dark money is money spent on political campaigns where – since 2010 – the names of the donors to the campaign don’t have to be disclosed.  The money can come through STATE or FEDERAL sources – or both. To learn more about “dark money”, click here.

In March of 2021, an Oklahoma PAC called People for Opportunity, Inc. gave over 100 thousand dollars to an organization called WPAi – a political polling, research and analytics team – run by Chris Wilson – in support of Jake Merrick.

Who is People for Opportunity?  

According to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office, People for Opportunity was begun in 2020 by Jonathan Small – the President of OCPA and Dave Bond – the Vice President for Advocacy at OCPA.

Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow for the Advancement of Liberty and the Executive Director of Save Our States, a project with OCPA.

OCPA has long been an organization in part dedicated to the idea of School Choice – which includes ‘vouchers’; providing parents with tax dollars to send their children to private schools.

OCPA is often funded by grants from the Walton Foundation (during campaign cycles apparently), the State Policy Network – an organization of which they are an affiliate – as well as private and other donors.  Because they are a private, non-profit organization, however, they do not have to report the source of their donations, only their expenditures.

In 2019, OCPA did make two expenditures.

One to the American Federation for Children – a school choice organization – and one to the OCPA Impact Inc organization.  

OCPA Impact Inc., also does business as OCPA Oklahoma Policy Solutions, Inc. under the same EIN (tax number).

In 2019, they reported $19,933 in revenue, but again, from where that came who knows.  Where it was spent was not recorded on their tax form either.

In fact, OCPA has LOTS of organizations registered with the OK Secretary of State’s Office.  Unfortunately, our state is not a fan of transparency as it costs a minimum of $5 to request ANY documents from the SOS office on any registered organization and upwards of $10 per document to actually see the paperwork the SOS’s office requires for filing.

Why so many organizations associated with OCPA? 

Where did the 100K come from for the donation through People for Opportunity?  

Who knows?  The only way to find out any information about these dark money groups is painstaking and not something many people are going to do.  This is sad, because people who SPEND MONEY TO ELECT or REMOVE elected officials have INFLUENCE over the candidates they help elect.

This election cycle, an organization listed as Catalyst Oklahoma recorded expenditures of $50,620 for Jake Merrick’s opponent Kristen Thompson.

Who is Catalyst Oklahoma, Inc. ?

Catalyst Inc., is a dark money subgroup of OCPA with the Principal listed as Charles Sublett – a member of OCPA’s Board.

There is no 990 filing for Catalyst Oklahoma for 2019 and above, though there’s little the form would tell us but to whom the organization has given money.

Why would OCPA work so heavily in dark money in Oklahoma?  Why have so many organizations and sub-organizations with so many different names associated?  What does OCPA have to hide?

Why spend so much money to help Senator Merrick win and then turn around and spend more money to unseat him?  If OCPA is so fired up about “empowering parents” by offering “school choice”, why not put the money being spent on elected legislators into starting new schools to help kids?  How does it ’empower parents’ to spend so much money on legislative activities?  

Dark money always leaves unanswered questions while it influences the legislative process in ways most ‘average’ Oklahomans can’t.