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Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt under investigation for “illegal” ad

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma County’s top prosecutor confirmed Thursday he’s investigating whether a recent campaign ad by Gov. Kevin Stitt violates state law and ethics rules.

David Prater said he launched an investigation after a bipartisan group of House legislators suggested the 30-second ad, titled “ Track Record,” violates state law.

“I consider this a serious matter,” Prater said in a statement. “I will respect the lawmakers’ request and investigate to determine if evidence exists to prove a violation of Oklahoma criminal statute.”

Stitt’s relationship with the Legislature, particularly House Republicans, has grown tense in recent months, especially after he vetoed key pieces of the budget agreement reached between the House and Senate.

The ad, airing in Oklahoma City and Tulsa markets, touts Stitt’s appointment of Attorney General John O’Connor, who is described as a “conservative fighter” and is prominently featured in the second half of the ad. The Stitt campaign spent about $340,000 to air the ad for three weeks in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the lawmakers said in their letter to Prater.

State law prohibits a candidate from knowingly making or accepting a contribution of more than $2,900 to another candidate committee. Independent expenditures by a candidate committee also are prohibited. Concerns about the ad were first reported by the nonprofit journalism organization Oklahoma Watch.

Donelle Harder, Stitt’s campaign manager, released a statement saying the campaign had received legal counsel in advance and they remain confident it is an “acceptable campaign ad.” But she added: “In light of a recent inquiry, we are pausing this particular ad.”

O’Connor’s campaign manager Brett Humphrey said he didn’t want to comment on another candidate’s ad, but said they were not involved in creating the ad and haven’t asked the governor to pull it.

“I don’t run the campaign for the governor,” Humphrey said. Oklahoma’s primary election is June 28, and O’Connor is facing a tough election contest against fellow Republican Gentner Drummond, who lost to former Attorney General Mike Hunter by fewer than 300 votes during the 2018 primary election. Because no Democrat filed for the seat, whoever wins the primary is expected to coast to reelection in the fall against Libertarian Lynda Steele.

Rex Duncan, a former prosecutor who was recently serving as general counsel for the Oklahoma Republican Party, said he believes the ad is clearly illegal.

“It couldn’t be more clear, in my opinion,” Duncan said. “And the simple solution is for the governor to pull the ad or the attorney general to ask the governor to pull the ad.”

Duncan said he was fired from his volunteer role as the party’s general counsel by new Oklahoma GOP Chairman A.J. Ferrate, who also is an attorney, after Duncan posted his concerns about the ad on social media and talked to a reporter about those concerns.

For his part, Ferrate said he believes Duncan’s analysis was flawed and that the ad is perfectly legal.

“From my own legal analysis and review of Ethics Commission rules and state statute, there is no issue with Gov. Stitt’s ad,” Ferrate said.

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