SHAWNEE, Okla. (KFOR) – An Oklahoma state senator who has waged a public battle to bring more oversight to Oklahoma’s largest online charter school, is now in the middle of a fight to save his senate seat.
Senator Ron Sharp said he’s losing ground thanks to a massive smear campaign that is now being investigated for fraud and defamation.
“Never have I ever had to deal with this type of flyers,” Sharp said Thursday.
Investigators estimate more than $100,000 worth of campaign mailers trashing Sharp. The eye-catching fliers have been showing up in mailboxes since May.
The junk mail makes claims about his voting record, which he calls downright lies.
“It confuses people and they know that people are not going to go to the website, to the senate website, and look up those bills and see how they relate,” Sharp said.
One of those is an accusation that he voted to force teachers to pay union dues.
“Oklahoma is a state that does not necessarily support any type of organized labor, and we have not since 2001,” said the senator, now in his sixth year in office. “So that’s just a lie. And of course the Senate bills and House bills of which they refer to in this mailer don’t even relate to the allegation.”
On some, the Republican is called a “liberal,” his image placed next to Democratic politicians, attacking him for voting on a tax increase that helped pay for teacher raises in 2018. There are even some placing his photo alongside Harvey Weinstein, accusing him of voting to “double taxpayer giveaways to Hollywood producers like convicted felon Harvey Weinstein.”
“When a film industry comes into Oklahoma, we will give them a tax credit, but that’s a return. Our return on the dollar is tremendous,” Sharp said, pointing at the recent filming of a Matt Damon movie in Luther that has since been halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “That was bringing in thousands of dollars to the state of Oklahoma and to the Luther area.”
The Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office began investigating the mailers, tracking them to individuals and shell companies from around the country and inside the state.
“What we have are people that are working in our state capitol that are being paid by private industries to make statements,” said detective Lt. Steven Sample.
When he looked up the listed headquarters for the organizations, he found they were fake, one leading to a UPS Store in Edmond.
One group taking credit on the mailer is called the Oklahoma Conservative Project LLC, a group whose listed website, oklahomaconservativeproject.com, doesn’t exist.
Another is The Oklahoma Federation for Children Action Fund. The name is almost identical to The American Federation For Children Action Fund, a political committee that lobbies for charter and private schools.
“Obviously, I’ve been sued by a group, and therefore that would be your first assumption, but again, it might not be the correct assumption,” he said.
Sharp, a retired school teacher, has been a persistent critic of Epic Charter Schools, accusing the company of corruption and accepting state funding meant for public schools under false pretenses. They are allegations Epic officials deny, the company even suing Sharp for defamation in 2019.
But until charges are filed, investigators won’t reveal the individuals they’ve identified as the culprits behind the mailers.
Sharp, running for his third term in office, came in second in Tuesday’s primary election with only 33 percent of the vote, behind Shane Jett with 44 percent. The two will be in a runoff election August 25.
Up against the negative campaigning, Sharp said he’s shocked he’s still in the running after the flood of allegedly fraudulent negative campaigning. He said he knows it won’t end for him or any other candidates who are targeted by dark money with an agenda they don’t abide by.
“When people keep read each week, ‘liberal, liberal, liberal,’ they begin to believe the lie. Once you reject the truth, all there is to accept is the lie,” Sharp said. “Any propagandist can tell you that’s how you convince people. Just keep repeating, repeating, repeating, and the people are believing it.”
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