The Norman Transcript

March 26, 2013

Mayoral race expenses raise questions

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Although a few Norman city election campaign expenditures are raising possible legal questions, City Clerk Brenda Hall said the questions, which regard consulting fees collected by a Norman City Council member from a mayoral candidate, are for legal counsel or the district attorney to answer and not within the Norman Election Commission’s purview.

The Election Commission met Monday and gave city candidate campaign reports a thumbs up, with few exceptions. 

Campaign contributions have been reported with no major problems. Incumbent Mayor Cindy Rosenthal has raised almost $90,000 and expects to report close to $100,000 by the final reporting deadline next week based on her expenditures.

That’s nearly twice the money raised by her two challengers combined. Tom Sherman has raised $57,985, and David Kempf has made a self-loan of $180 to pay for advertising and consulting. Compared to previous Norman campaigns, this one is a relatively low-cost election. 

However, some campaign expenditures have drawn interest by supporters, especially Sherman paying fees to current City Council member Tom Kovach.

The Norman City Code 2-103 on council ethics, conflict of interest, states that “an elected City Official shall not use his office to endorse or oppose any candidate for office.”

Sherman paid AIC Consulting LLC of Norman — a firm co-owned by Kovach — $3,750. He also listed Kovach, 1426 Beverly Hills, personally for another $3,750 for campaign consulting. A third expenditure connecting Kovach to the Sherman campaign lists Ranch Camp LLC, also at 1426 Beverly Hills, for $2,500 for campaign consulting. Records indicate David W. (Will) Weir is an officer in Ranch Camp. Weir is Kovach’s longtime life partner.

Kovach maintains that providing professional consulting services is not “endorsing” Sherman for office.

Hall said whether Kovach’s professional involvement with the Sherman campaign is a violation of city ethics law is a legal matter and not within the purview of the Norman Election Commission.

She said concerned residents can file complaints with the District Attorney’s Office and let those qualified in legal matters sort it out.

“I wrote the changes to the ethics ordinance,” Kovach said. “The idea was not to use your office to endorse or oppose anyone for office.”

Kovach said Rosenthal, Carol Dillingham and several other former Ward 4 council members privately endorsed Greg Jungman for the Ward 4 seat when he ran last year. 

“They were not using their offices to do it, so they weren’t violating the ordinance,” Kovach said. “I would have been uncomfortable doing that, however.”

Sherman also paid consulting fees to OK Political Strategies LLC in Mingo, $5,153, and to Joe Fairbanks, 712 Westridge Terrace, $5,000.

The majority of Rosenthal’s expenses are being paid to Red Dirt Strategies, including an $11,500 consulting fee, with an additional $6,000 encumbrance for consulting. Other expenditures include research, polling, yard signs, printing, field coordinator, website registration, phone and letters. 

Other campaign expenses include $300 in National Rifle Association membership dues reported by Ward 5 Council member Dave Spaulding. Hall said NRA is a political group and the expense is qualified.

Spaulding also listed payments for two legislative training conferences at a cost of $383 and $419, and two Wallbuilders/Pro Family Conference items at $325 each. According to the organization’s website, Wallbuilders deals with topics such as the application of scripture to public policy. 

While some candidates are scrambling to fill in blanks on job descriptions or make minor corrections to their reports, the only actual violation found is an omission by Benjamin Carter to file a report. 

Carter was a Ward 3 candidate until he had to move out of the ward and withdraw from the race. Hall said he still is required to file a report listing his filing fee expense. She has been trying to reach him and will continue to do so, but at this time he is not in compliance with city code.

Carter withdrew after the deadline and his name will be on the Ward 3 ballot, even though he is no longer qualified for that position. He was running against incumbent Robert Castleberry, who was previously appointed to the position after Hal Ezzell moved out of the ward.

Joy Hampton




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