NEWS

Dark money group launches TV ad blaming Gov. Kevin Stitt for Swadley's scandal

Nolan Clay
Oklahoman

A well-funded dark money group has launched a new TV ad blaming Gov. Kevin Stitt for the growing scandal over state park restaurants.

Sooner State Leadership Fund already has spent millions of dollars criticizing Stitt over his commutation of prison convicts.

The dark money group now plans to spend about $750,000 in television, cable, digital and direct mail advertising on its new criticism, its founder said.

The 30-second TV ad will begin airing Wednesday. At the end, a narrator asks viewers to call Stitt and "tell him it's time to start protecting our tax dollars."

"The governor has recently tried to shift blame and avoid accountability, but he told us in his own words: The buck stops at his desk," said the dark money group's founder, Trebor Worthen, a former legislator.

This screenshot shows part of the ad purchased by Sooner State Leadership Fund.

The governor's campaign manager, Donelle Harder, said the dark money groups are being funded by liberal, special interests.

"Their first $7 million in negative ads were a resounding failure because Oklahomans know Gov. Kevin Stitt has fought every day to protect Oklahoma’s taxpayers," she said.

"Gov. Stitt inherited a drained Rainy Day fund, and he led the state to build its largest savings in history while also putting the state’s checkbook online. He has aggressively called for audits —including the first ever audit of the state Department of Education — and has utilized these reports to take swift action to deliver a limited, accountable government.”

A screenshot of an ad purchased by Sooner State Leadership Fund shows the document where Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Jerry Winchester as head of the State Tourism Department and a recent article from The Oklahoman.

The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department last week canceled its contract with Swadley's Bar-B-Q to operate SwadlFoggy Bottom Kitchen restaurants at six state parks. It said it was ending the contract due to "suspected fraudulent activity and questionable business practices."

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the state auditor are already looking into the fraud allegations. A special House committee plans to hold hearings over the possible misuse of tax dollars this month.

On Friday, the governor announced he had accepted the resignation of the executive director of the Tourism and Recreation Department. Stitt had appointed Jerry Winchester executive director on April 1, 2019.

The TV ad hits the governor over that appointment. It says "the latest allegation of corruption" in the Stitt administration "involves another state official personally hired" by the governor. Citing a KOCO-5 story, the ad calls the restaurants contract "a backroom deal that put taxpayers on the hook to cover millions in losses."

It quotes from Stitt's 2019 State of the State speech where he talked about having more direct control over the hiring and firing of state agency heads. "You will know exactly where the buck stops," Stitt said at the time. "At my desk."

The Oklahoma Project, a local political action committee, also has begun airing a 30-second TV ad critical of Stitt over the Swadley's deal. "His friends get rich. Oklahomans get burned," a narrator says at the end.