WASHINGTON — A group backing state Rep. T.W. Shannon in the U.S. Senate race has launched the first negative attack in that race, financing an ad that criticizes U.S. Rep. James Lankford for some budget votes.
The ad, paid for by Oklahomans for a Conservative Future, began airing late last week in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa media markets. Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, suggested the ad was in response to recent ads showing him ahead.
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Lankford and Shannon, a Lawton Republican, are the front-runners in the Republican primary to replace U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, who is retiring at the end of the congressional session. The primary is June 24.
Both candidates are supported by so-called dark money groups — ones that don’t reveal their donors — but those groups have run positive ads for the past several weeks.
The new ad says Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, voted “with liberals” to raise the debt ceiling twice. And it says Lankford voted for “the Obama budget” that increased spending by $65 billion and cut military funding.
The ad does not give roll call vote citations to back up its claims. It’s not clear what the ad means about Lankford voting for President Barack Obama’s budget.
Information filed with the Federal Election Commission shows the group spent about $246,000 on the ad, with most of the money used to purchase air time.
Conservative Future group
One of the designated leaders of the group, Oklahoma City lobbyist Chad Alexander, was arrested last month on drug charges. Neither he nor Xavier Neira, who works for a construction firm and is also listed as a leader of the group, responded about the ad.
Instead, a Washington, D.C.-based political consultant, Evan Kozlow, answered questions.
Neira told The Oklahoman in March that Oklahomans for a Conservative Future was formed to counter the influence of non-Oklahoma groups and “offer a truly Oklahoman support base and perspective.”
However, given the Washington consultant’s role in answering questions about the ad, it’s not clear what Oklahomans are involved. The group keeps its donors secret so it’s not known whether any are Oklahomans. The ad that recently began running was produced by a company in the Washington, D.C., area.
Oklahomans for a Conservative Future has now spent nearly $900,000 on efforts to help Shannon. It was organized under Internal Revenue Service rules as a “social welfare” group; such organizations typically have to raise twice as much as they spend on politics.
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Kozlow said the debt ceiling votes referred to in the ad occurred in 2011, on the Budget Control Act, and in 2013, on HR 325.
The 2011 bill raised the debt ceiling by $900 billion and cut spending slightly more than that; it also set up automatic budget cuts known as sequestration if Congress couldn’t agree to $1.2 trillion more in cuts. All five of Oklahoma’s Republican House members voted for the bill, as did the large majority of Republicans in the House; Democrats split 95 to 95 on it.
The 2013 bill suspended the debt ceiling for about five months. Three of Oklahoma’s five House Republicans voted for that bill, while two opposed it.
The “Obama budget” vote was a reference to the budget agreement worked out late last year between Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Kozlow said; the president supported the agreement, he said.
That agreement eased the effects of sequestration, adding spending for the military and other domestic agencies for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Three of Oklahoma’s five Republican House members voted for the bill, while two opposed it.
Lankford said in a prepared statement that the ad misrepresented the facts.
“As Oklahomans get to know us more and more, and learn about our solutions to the problems we face as a nation, our poll numbers continue to climb. Now the barrage of negative attacks come late in the campaign to distort the record and try to confuse voters. Republicans do not like distorted negative attacks on other Republicans.”
Asked whether the ad was in response to Lankford leading, Kozlow said, “Voting to raise the debt ceiling and to support a budget backed by President Obama are public votes that Mr. Lankford cast. Every Republican voter should be aware of his congressional voting record before voting in the Senate primary.”