A company headed by a Republican House member was paid tens of thousands of dollars to help throw a lavish party in honor of House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, raising conflict-of-interest questions.
An Oklahoma Ethics Commission report shows Poligram, an event planning and management firm founded and run by Rep. Mike Osburn, R-Edmond, was paid $40,000 in operating expenses related to planning the 2019 Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball.
The event traditionally attracts lawmakers, lobbyists, business leaders and advocates as they prepare to kick off the legislative session each year.
This year, organizers raised a record-setting $520,000 from businesses, special interest groups and other private donors. Of that amount, $428,000 went to hosting the party, featuring dinner and a concert by the Nashville-based Downtown Band on Jan. 26 at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
The top expenses included $120,100 to About Last Night, another event planning company, $72,050 to the Petroleum Club and a $50,000 donation to Tenaciously Teal – one of two charities that received a total of $75,000 from the event – and $40,000 to Poligram for a mix of management, event and website service fees.
Osburn, who could not be reached for comment Thursday and Friday, started Poligram in 2006, according to a Secretary of State business filing, and has listed his ownership of the company on each of his annual financial disclosure statements.
According to the company’s website, it offers services that include association management, communications, event production and leadership development. State Ethics Commission and Federal Election Commission records show the only other time Poligram was paid by a political or campaign committee was in 2008, when it received $1,000 during a state Senate race.
In addition to Osburn, two co-workers are listed on the website: Osburn’s wife, Holly, who is director of organizational consulting, and Marian Free, director of operations.
On top of the $40,000 paid to Poligram, the Ethics Commission filing shows that Free, who also serves as executive director of the Speaker’s Ball, a nonprofit group, was paid nearly $22,000 for various services.
Minority Floor Leader Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, said privately funded events that benefit politicians, such as the Speaker’s Ball and gubernatorial or presidential inaugurations, are “rife with the potential for political favor and influence.” However, he didn’t allege that any illegal activity occurred with the Speaker’s Ball.
He noted that it is particularly concerning that the $40,000 paid to Poligram could be used to enrich a fellow legislator.
“When the funds that are donated for those events are channeled back into the pockets of other elected officials or into private entities owned by other elected officials, there must be scrutiny, and the scrutiny requires transparency,” Perryman said. “We often hear the phrase, ‘Follow the money,’ and transactions this large give rise to concern.”
McCall’s office declined to comment and instead referred questions to Robert McCampbell, an Oklahoma City lawyer and former U.S. attorney, who serves as chairman for the Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball.
McCampbell insisted that the spending was not politically motivated or that no quid pro quo existed.