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Who or what is behind secretive group "Catalyst Oklahoma"?

Liz Burleson / Red Dirt Report
This Secretary of State document shows us the incorporation of Catalyst Oklahoma, Inc.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The sudden appearance of a website for a mysterious group called “United OKC” and operated by an equally-mysterious group called “Catalyst Oklahoma” got our attention two weeks ago and we noted it in our Feb. 9, 2014 story “Mysterious group ‘OKC United’ seeks vague goals.”

At the time, we mused that this group may be an Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce-linked front group and astroturf operation.

Investigating further, things didn’t get any less murky when this same group – Catalyst Oklahoma, Inc. - began putting out mass mailings, robocalls and Internet ads this week pushing Mayor Mick Cornett and his current effort to win a fourth term as mayor. Clearly a lot of money is being poured into the operation.

The mailers say: “Mayor Mick Cornett’s leadership is working for Oklahoma City.” And right beside that: “Don’t forget to Vote on March 4!” Oddly, some of the mailers are showing up in the mailboxes of homes in The Village.

So, doing some digging, alongside RDR intern Ian Carr, we discovered some curious connections between a figure connected with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; three women in Wilmington, Delaware; one of the most powerful law firms in the world; Devon Energy; and a chamber-linked lawyer in Edmond.

And while the picture has yet to be crystal clear, this much we know: Back in November 2013, three women – Catherine D. Ledyard, Mary E. Keogh, and Deborah M. Reusch, all based at the Wilmington, Del. offices of uber-powerful global law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom - incorporated the not-for-profit Catalyst Oklahoma.

And for those unfamiliar with Skadden Arps, Forbes magazine called the firm “Wall Street’s most powerful law firm.” They are the second largest law firm in the world in terms of revenue, worth over $2.1 billion and employing over 4,000 people in cities stretching from Beijing to Munich and from Singapore to Toronto.

So, we wanted to know why a powerful firm like Skadden Arps would be so interested in Oklahoma City’s mayor’s race?

Red Dirt Report called Catherine Ledyard at her Skadden Arps office in Wilmington and she told this reporter that while she understood that I had questions, any media inquiries must first go through the proper channels. As of our Friday deadline, we have not heard from any spokespeople representing Skadden Arps.

We also wanted to know why Catalyst Oklahoma (a.k.a. the non-profit “OKC United”) has so far not filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission as required by law. The rule is that any group spending or receiving $500 in an election must file with the Ethics Commission within 10 days. 

So far, it is not clear who would be on the hook for failing to file with the Ethics Commission, particularly when there is the possibility that someone found guilty of not doing so could face a $1,000 fine and as much as six months in jail.

Meanwhile, the website, www.okcunited.org, is short on specifics, beyond the usual “issues” (safe streets, quality of life, jobs, etc.). According to Whois.com, the website was registered to Matt Leonardo, with the GOP-friendly Revolution Agency in Alexandria, Virginia back in November 2013. That month and year come up a lot in this investigation.

We called Leonardo’s office but he was unavailable for comment.

According to revolution-agency.com, Leonardo has “served as the lead media strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce political efforts and been a key player in the Chamber’s ongoing efforts to promote legal reform at the state and federal levels.”

And keeping the word “catalyst” in mind, Leonardo’s bio states that “Matt’s vision and tenacity have been the catalyst in growing the agency from a one-man band into a highly-sought after, full-service public affairs and issue advocacy firm that represents some of the most prominent trade associations, Fortune 500 companies, and issue groups in America.”

After our failed attempt to call Matt Leonardo, we tried calling Bryan N. Evans with the Evans & Davis law firm in Edmond (it also has another office in Dallas) seeking answers about his group Catalyst Oklahoma and who funds them and who is involved with them. However, Evans was unavailable Friday afternoon. We did, however leave a message and sent him an email seeking further comment.

Evans, we should note, is a member of the Edmond Chamber of Commerce, as is his law firm.

Red Dirt Report has contacted OKC United/Catalyst Oklahoma via their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/OklahomaCityUnited) and their Twitter account (Twitter.com/StrongerOKC) and we have not received a reply.

It has long been suspected that forces within the powerful and influential confines of Devon Energy have been interested in inserting themselves in Oklahoma City politics. That said, it is also interesting to note, via Skadden.com, that Skadden Arps, as of November 2013, is “representing Devon Energy Corporation in its $6 billion acquisition of GeoSouthern Energy’s holdings in the Eagle Ford shale formation in Texas …”

And keeping the Skadden Arps connection in mind, Devon’s executive vice president and general counsel is former Skadden Arps attorney Lyndon C. Taylor. He was previously at their office in Houston, Texas.

Red Dirt Report did call the office of Devon Energy Chairman Larry Nichols seeking comment, but he was unavailable.

At this point, this story leaves us with a few questions yet unanswered:

  1. Why are three women in Delaware interested in the Oklahoma City mayoral race?
  2.  Why is an attorney, whose law firm and residence is in Edmond, a neighboring city, involved in this group that is so interested in the mayor’s race?
  3. Is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce trying to get the Edmond and Oklahoma City chambers of commerce heavily involved in the mayor’s race?
  4. Why didn’t Catalyst Oklahoma register with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, as required by law?
  5. Why is everything so shady and hidden? Is this an out-of-state operation or is it someone or some group in-state that wants to remain hidden?
  6. Why is Wall Street so interested in the Oklahoma City mayor’s race?
  7. Everything seemed to go into motion, regarding OKC United and Catalyst Oklahoma in November 2013. Why then? Was it for tax purposes or something else?
  8. Does Catalyst Oklahoma and OKC United have the interests of the citizens of Oklahoma City at heart or is something else going on here?

We hope to have more on this story in coming days.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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