The Oklahoma Republican Party paid thousands of dollars in fines to the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service in 2021 and could be on the hook for even more pending the outcome of an audit, the party’s director of finance said in a report sent to state OKGOP members Tuesday.
“Our administration has had to pay over $14,000 in fines to the FEC and IRS for reporting and filing violations that occurred during the previous administration,” finance director Dwaine Shroyer wrote. “As the result of these violations, the FEC has initiated an audit of the OKGOP for the time period 2019 thru 2020. Unfortunately it is very likely that additional fines will come from the FEC audit. Moreover, the IRS informed us that the required forms for 2020 were not filed which could result in fines.”
The state GOP paid $12,984 in IRC and FEC fines in April 2021 alone and $13,555 for the year, according to the letter accompanying the financial summary, which was addressed to “Fellow Republicans.”
The letter highlighted efforts to cut expenses, improve transparency to party members and build out infrastructure.
The Oklahoma GOP is now chaired by John Bennett, who previously served in the Oklahoma State House of Representatives for eight years. He became chairman in April 2021. Bennett succeeded David McLain, who had chaired the party since 2019.
Party ran on a deficit
While winning statewide elections continues to be easy for Republicans in Oklahoma, raising money for the state party apparatus has been a different story over the past year.
According to the report released by Shroyer, the OKGOP operated at a $104,628.94 deficit in 2021. It had more than $534,000 in operating expenses last year and took in about $429,000 in donations.
Expenses ranged from $2,100 paid to Zoom to more than $196,000 for event expenses.
In his letter, Shroyer said he has focused on cutting spending in recent months.
“We’ve been concentrated on cutting the fat of unnecessary spending,” he wrote. “For example, when our administration took over we were spending roughly $500 a month on Zoom services. We cut that cost down to only $15 a month, a 97 percent reduction.”
Shroyer said in the letter that the party is working on building out its infrastructure.
“When we took over we didn’t have an active phone system at our headquarters,” he wrote. “We have made significant progress toward the development of digital infrastructure that will be an asset to the party and future administrations.”
This is not the first time the Oklahoma GOP has faced financial problems. At one point last year, it reportedly had just $810 in cash on hand, according to The Norman Transcript.
Dani praises transparency
Oklahoma GOP executive director Bob Dani told NonDoc the party is working to make sure it is transparent with its finances. Dani founded an investigation firm in 1987 that worked with corporate clients, and he said he appreciates that effort.
“I think it’s absolutely important,” Dani said. “Being in the investigation business with clients like General Motors and Hobby Lobby, transparency was what I was always after as an investigator. Transparency is very important.”
Dani said the fines the state GOP received from the FEC and IRS are not uncommon for political parties, which he says have to navigate ever-changing regulations.
“Some of those federal and state ethics rules are constantly rewritten,” he said. “It’s very complicated the way it is set up, and sometimes I think maybe it’s meant to be that way. You literally have to be a CPA in finance to get a firm understanding of how it works.”
Dani said he was also pleased with the party’s efforts at cutting costs.
“If you look at those finances, there’s not one dime of salary going to anyone at the top,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that those in the past who took salaries were wrong. They need to be compensated because a lot of work goes in to what they do, but this is not a situation where a bunch of people are benefitting financially or with expensive travel or meals.”
Chairman has stirred controversy
Bennett has been controversial since taking office. The Marine Corps veteran compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust in August.
“When they put that on the Jews, they weren’t sending them directly to the gas chambers, they weren’t sending them directly to the incineraries,” Bennett said in a Facebook post. “This is communist. This is totalitarian and if we don’t do something now this is going to end in the exactly same result.”
In November, he called for GOP national chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to step down over her efforts to work with the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative LGBTQ group. Bennett has also criticized fellow Republicans and U.S. Sens. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe for voting to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. Bennett has backed conservative pastor Jackson Lahmeyer’s 2022 challenge of Lankford, who has said it is “highly unusual” for a party chairman to support someone challenging an incumbent within the same party.