Big ad spending on SQ 777
Groups opposed to State Question 777 have been outspending proponents of the farming measure on television ads by a widening margin in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's election.
Both sides of the debate have flooded Oklahoma airwaves, spending a combined $1.2 million in television ads in hopes of swaying voters, some of it funded by dark money groups.
The two main opposition groups have spent at least $789,253 in TV ads statewide, according to state campaign disclosure statements and Federal Communications Commission records.
Comparatively, pro-groups, who refer to the measure as "Right to Farm," have spent at least $490,000 on TV ads to promote the measure, according to FCC records.
Tom Buchanan, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, a major supporter of SQ 777, said out-of-state animal welfare groups have provided ample funding in opposition to the measure.
"That's what we expected — that the national activist groups would spend significant amounts of out-of-state money in Oklahoma to influence Oklahoma voters," Buchanan said.
Buchanan said the opposition ads are filled with misinformation and fear mongering, including claims that the measure would legalize puppy mills and cockfighting.
"Cockfighting is against the law today and will be against the law tomorrow in Oklahoma. Puppy mills are highly regulated by the state of Oklahoma today and will be tomorrow," Buchanan said. "Oklahoma's family farmers and ranchers do not view cockfighting and puppy mills as agricultural activities — we do not support those."
Oklahomans for Food, Farm and Family has spent $578,015 against SQ 777, including $519,985 on television ads, records show. Most of that funding came from the nonprofit group Oklahoma Rising, Inc., a 501c4 social welfare nonprofit, which does not have to disclose its donors.
Meanwhile, another national nonprofit, Protect the Harvest, has begun purchasing television advertising in support of SQ 777. It also does not have to disclose its donors. The group is sponsored by cattle rancher Forrest Lucas, the founder of Lucas Oil Products.
Oklahomans for Food, Farm and Family sent a cease and desist letter this week to Oklahoma City Fox affiliate KOKH over claims made in an opposition ad sponsored by Protect the Harvest.
Bud Scott, campaign manager for Oklahomans for Food, Farm and Family, asked the station to stop airing the ad, because it featured images from his group's ads superimposed with the logo of the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The station said in a response email dated Nov. 1 that it would continue to air the ad, but added Scott's written opposition to it in its public Federal Communications Commission file.
"They show my ad and they claim we are funded by PETA and the Humane Society," Scott said. "It's a false accusation — it's one intended to harm our organization."
Scott said his group has spent heavily on TV spots to counter campaigning in support of SQ 777 by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, which has a presence in almost every county in Oklahoma.
Brian Klippenstein, executive director for Protect the Harvest, said his group stands by its claim that SQ 777 opposition is heavily funded by animal welfare groups.
"Our message is the opponents are funded by radical animal rights groups," Klippenstein said. "I think the complaint against our ad is outing them as being the ones who don't know how to find the truth."
State Question 777 advertising fact check:
Claim: Supporters of SQ 777 claim the measure is needed to protect Oklahoma farmers from animal welfare laws such as California's Proposition 2, a ballot measure requiring egg-laying hens in the state to be kept in roomier cages resulting in skyrocketing egg prices.
Reality: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Center, avian flu, higher feed prices and drought were at least partially responsible for a 17.8 percent increase in California's egg prices in 2015. The USDA projected retail egg prices in California would decline 14-15 percent in 2016 as the market recovered from the avian flu outbreak.
Claim: Opponents claim SQ 777 was created by the pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council.
Reality: ALEC drafted a piece of model legislation called the Right to Farm Act in 1996 to help protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits. Oklahoma has had such laws since 1980. In 2009, Oklahoma House Bill 1482, called the Right to Farm Act, further strengthened those protections.
In contrast, SQ 777 embeds protections for agriculture into the state constitution, making it harder to enact new laws regulating farming and ranching practices in the state. It originated in the Oklahoma Legislature as House Joint Resolution 1012 in 2015.