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Oklahoma’s Independent, Third Party Candidates Struggle To Raise Campaign Funds

Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma's 2016 Teacher of the Year and an independent candidate for the Oklahoma Senate, stands in his classroom in Norman, October 20, 2016.
Sue Ogrocki
Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma's 2016 Teacher of the Year and an independent candidate for the Oklahoma Senate, stands in his classroom in Norman.

Of the 17 Libertarians in Oklahoma who filed to run in Tuesday's election, only three have raised enough money to face campaign finance reporting requirements.

Across the state, campaigns have raised more than $34 million, but less than 1 percent have gone to Libertarians or independent candidates, The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt reports:

[Independent Elizabeth Larios] said she has struggled to find donors who will support a non-party candidate. “I thought it was going to be a bit easier to raise money as an independent because you can identify and understand both sides of issues,” said Larios, who’s running for a state House seat in Moore. “Then I realized how Democrats traditionally want Democrats to win, and that’s who they’re going to give to. Same goes for Republicans.” Larios identifies as socially progressive and fiscally conservative. At the door, where she has done most of her campaigning, people usually find something to like about her politics. Even if she gets someone to say they’ll vote for her, Larios said people are pessimistic about her chances. “They believe it’s hard for me, but they’re willing to buy into it,” she said.

Libertarian candidates are running for the first time under party’s banner this year after it was formally recognized in March. Former GOP official Shannon Grimes is running as a Libertarian to unseat state Rep. William Fourkiller, D-Tahlequah, whose district represents Cherokee County. He’s been the most successful candidate, raising $5,860.

The figure doesn’t surprise Grimes, who said his party had to scramble to find candidates after being recognized. “As a party we’ve got, collectively, a lot of learning to do as far as organizing, fundraising and those sorts of activities,” Grimes said. “We’re not going to be getting a lot of PAC money and corporate money because we’re not selling influence in the same way that other parties do. It’s going to take time to build the bench, as it were, of our candidates and people involved in politics.”

The most successful unaffiliated candidate is former Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan of Norman, who raised about $20,000. He’s going one-on-one against state Sen. Rob Standridge, who’s spent almost $70,000 to keep his seat.

Sheehan was not aware of his fundraising success, comparatively, among independent and Libertarian candidates. He said that while raising money is important to his campaign manager, speaking to voters is most important to him. “From my perspective, it was all about getting my message out there and telling voters who I am and who they were investing in,” said Sheehan, who is running for state Senate in Norman. “My logic was that if they spent a minute or two just talking with me, then I was certain I would get them on board and the contributions would follow. It seems that it paid off.”

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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