OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Accusations of dark money have hit the state auditor’s race.
Oklahoma State Auditor Cindy Byrd’s only opponent in her effort to be re-elected during the June 28th primary is Steven McQuillen; Byrd says his campaign may be payback for her auditing Epic Charter Schools.
In 2018 Cindy Byrd spent approximately $140,000 running for State Auditor and Inspector, an elected official responsible for auditing and setting accounting standards of all government agencies and county treasurers within Oklahoma.
Past and recent auditors have all been Certified Public Accountants (CPAs).
In 2020, Auditor Byrd released the results of a detailed statewide audit of Epic Charter Schools in response to rumblings about the misuse of taxpayer funds and other financial mismanagement, including a commingling of funds.
Byrd put a price tag on the waste: $20 million; the fraud is at the center of a criminal investigation as well.
Epic founders Ben Harris and David Chaney may face criminal charges for their involvement; they are no longer affiliated with the school system.
The agency’s analysis also included of the charter school system’s accountability and oversight, the cost accounting system and payroll.
Byrd has spent around $150,000 so far on her re-election campaign.
“This was a pretty sleepy race until filing period, [when] Steven McQuillen filed against me,” she said in an interview with KFOR.
She believes her opponent, Steve McQuillen is on track to spend $1 million.
“I released an audit that revealed that they were inappropriately lining their pockets meant for our students’ education and that they had even used some of our Oklahoma tax dollars,” said Byrd.
“I believe that this money being funneled into the [PAC] is from them in retaliation for that audit,” she added.
But, McQuillen hasn’t raised any money; the campaign is funded by dark money group “Conservative Alliance PAC”.
In an interview with KFOR Friday, former Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said the effort was clear.
“Five statewide mailers that probably cost $100,000 a piece, [and] then they’re doing a tremendous amount of TV to try to get this person elected,” he said.
According to reporting in The Tulsa World, multiple Republican lawmakers were asked to run against Byrd, and they were told money wouldn’t be a problem.
“There were people approached by a political consultant trying to get people to run against me,” said Byrd.
In a statement to KFOR, McQuillen said he was focused on his own campaign.
“I’m focused on my own campaign…I don’t know who is behind the outside groups nor do I have any control over what they say or do,” read part of the statement from McQuillen.
KFOR tried to get in touch with former EPIC leadership, but was unable to reach anyone for comment.