(Editor’s note: This story was authored by Paul Monies and Trevor Brown of Oklahoma Watch and appears here in accordance with the non-profit journalism organization’s republishing terms. It was updated at 11:19 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, to change the headline.)
An outside group funded by Sue Ann Arnall, an Oklahoma City philanthropist, spent more than $65,000 to defeat an Oklahoma County district court judge who presided over her 2014 divorce case with billionaire oilman Harold Hamm.
The political action committee, the Oklahoma Good Government Fund, was formed in June and had one contribution, $100,000 from Arnall, according to state Ethics Commission reports. As an unlimited, independent expenditure PAC, it could raise and spend unlimited amounts on political races as long as it didn’t coordinate with campaigns.
The PAC bought direct mail and online ads, as well as a paid canvasser who went door-to-door to support Amy Palumbo in the race for the District 7, Office 3 position in Oklahoma County. The incumbent, District Judge Howard Haralson, also drew another challenger, Mark K. Bailey.
Palumbo won the race outright in the June 26 primary with 65 percent of the vote. Haralson came second with 18 percent, followed by Bailey with 16.5 percent.
It’s rare for incumbent judges to lose in judicial elections, and it’s rarer still for independent expenditures in judicial races. The $65,000 spent by the Oklahoma Good Government Fund was more than twice as much as Haralson raised and spent on his race. Palumbo reported $12,850, including $4,850 in loans, in her June 18 fundraising report.
Haralson presided over the 2014 divorce of Hamm and Arnall and drew criticism during the case from open government advocates for closing most of the testimony in the case. Hamm’s attorneys, along with those of Continental Resources Inc., which Hamm founded, argued the divorce case could jeopardize the oil company’s trade secrets. Hamm founded Continental in 1967 and was married for 25 years to Arnall, an attorney who also worked at the company.
The eight-week divorce trial ended with Haralson granting Hamm about $2 billion in marital property, with Arnall’s own assets worth about $25 million. In lieu of alimony, Hamm wrote a check to Arnall for almost $975 million.
The couple is still involved in a protracted legal battle stemming from the divorce. Arnall claims a company the couple jointly owned sold assets in North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation to Continental at below-market value without her knowledge. That case is set for a pre-trial conference in November before Oklahoma County District Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons.
Arnall could not be reached for comment. Lesa Crowe, with Tulsa-based Oklahoma Good Government Fund, issued a statement on behalf of the PAC. She declined to answer follow-up questions.
“Given her large margin of victory, it’s pretty clear voters were excited to support Amy Palumbo,” Crowe said in a text message. “The incumbent almost finishing in third place shows voters were ready for a change. The Oklahoma Good Government Fund is going to continue to look for other good candidates to support across Oklahoma in the future.”
Haralson could not be reached for comment. Arnall told The Oklahoman that she did not create or operate the PAC and was not involved in its political messaging, and that Palumbo had approached her seeking support.
(Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly cited the name of the district judge in the divorce case. NonDoc regrets the error.)