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June 22, 2014

Documents link group, ‘dark money’

NORMAN — Key individuals involved in a so-called “dark-money” group supporting T.W. Shannon for U.S. Senate this year have had close ties with the campaign or its main consulting firm, according to state, federal and other public documents.

Those same individuals helped lead a separate independent political group in 2012 that had close connections to the consulting firm representing some state candidates also supported by the political group.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said this week his office is looking into possible criminal conduct stemming from allegations that former state House Speaker Shannon, who is running against initial frontrunner U.S. Rep. James Lankford in the GOP primary for Senate, improperly colluded with an outside group that has spent more than $1 million on advertising to benefit Shannon. Prater said this week that his office is in a

“fact-finding” mode to determine the merit of the complaints; no one has been charged with a crime.

In a story in The Oklahoman on Thursday, Shannon’s campaign denied coordinating with the nonprofit group supporting him, Oklahomans for a Conservative Future. The group was incorporated with the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office a week after Shannon announced his candidacy Jan. 29 for the seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee.

Federal and state election laws ban a candidate’s committee from coordinating with independent “dark money” groups. Such groups are often referred to as “dark” because they do not have to reveal their donors and can spend unlimited amounts. 

Shannon’s campaign did not return phone calls or emails Friday, but referred questions to Bradley Smith, a former Federal Election Commission chairman who files FEC paperwork for the campaign. Smith said federal rules governing coordination have been narrowly written and interpreted, setting a high bar to prove such activities. He believes no coordination occurred in Shannon’s campaign. 

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