Culture & the Family

Jonathan Small & Ryan Haynie | April 22, 2024

Paycom’s speech-chilling crusade against OCPA continues

Jonathan Small & Ryan Haynie

Four years ago today, Paycom, a company worth around $12.5 billion at the time, sued OCPA over an article OCPA published which referenced an open letter the company’s CEO, Chad Richison, sent to Governor Kevin Stitt. The letter, which was linked in the article, requested the governor take draconian measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 and abandon the “continued inaction on the part of the executive branch.” Today, on the fourth anniversary of Paycom’s predatory and meritless lawsuit that it continues to pursue in court to this day—and which has cost OCPA more than $1.1 million in attorneys’ fees so far—we want to look back at what caused the lawsuit and update everyone on some of what has happened since.

This lawsuit did not come out of nowhere. Prior to 2020, Paycom found itself taking positions opposite OCPA on matters of public policy, including a “dispute as to optimal revenue-raising measures to be taken in response” to a budgetary shortfall in 2017. OCPA was advocating for cutting spending and opposing tax increases during the economic downturn.

In a letter on Paycom letterhead to OU regent Frank Keating dated November 27, 2017, Richison stated: “I want to make you—and other state leaders—aware of the impact of the negative rhetoric currently espoused by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) and its political minions.” His letter continued: “Enclosed, please find samples of the negative narrative propagated by the agenda-driven OCPA, which would rather create problems than solve them so it can raise money to fund its reckless, outdated and out-of-step political machine.” 

His letter also criticized OCPA board members individually: “I find it disheartening that an OU regent, Frank Keating, promotes the OCPA’s destructive policies and negative rhetoric. The letter he co-authored with former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn and OCPA Chairman Larry Parman underscores OCPA’s true intent: to undermine any attempt to govern.” Richison also stated that “I think it would be in the best interest of OU and Oklahoma if Frank Keating would resign as an OU regent” because of his involvement with OCPA.

In an email to former-Governor Keating in 2018, Richison complained that “the out of date ideas trotted out by you and the OCPA is making it more difficult for Paycom to keep hiring the hundreds of people we need each year.” He continued, “[n]o one person has done more to hurt Oklahoma’s innovation and ability to climb than you and your cronies at OCPA.” To make sure Keating understood how serious he was, he added that “we will be relentless in our efforts to unseed [sic] you from any position of influence on young people’s education.” Keating responded: “If there are future communications from you, kindly refer to me as ‘Governor.’ I shall refer to you as ‘Asshole.’”

In 2017, OCPA chairman Larry Parman resigned from Paycom’s board of directors after Richison told Parman that “we’re coming after the OCPA” and that OCPA “is the lobbyist group that is ruining Oklahoma,” giving Parman the ultimatum to choose Paycom or OCPA. Considering the compensation of Paycom’s board of directors and the volunteer nature of OCPA’s board, Chairman Parman deserves enormous credit for what was a principled but costly decision. Another Paycom board member familiar with public policy who enjoys the compensation that Parman previously enjoyed, J.C. Watts, endorsed Joy Hofmeister, the Democratic nominee challenging Stitt in his reelection bid for governor in 2022.

Unable to silence OCPA by attacking its board members, Richison waited for an opportunity to attack OCPA directly. After OCPA published its article pointing out Richison’s totalitarian letter to Governor Stitt, Richison saw his opening and sued—using his business as a sword and shield for his personal crusade. His lawsuit alleged defamation and tortious interference. It was obvious from the beginning, and has only grown more obvious since, that the purpose of the lawsuit was less about justice for a wrong than it was about one liberal billionaire’s crusade against the state’s conservative think tank. Richison’s hostility to the First Amendment was nothing new; in a March 3, 2020 letter written on Paycom letterhead to the OU regents and interim president, Richison advocated for “inclusion and diversity” and scolded them that “your previous diversity training efforts failed because they assured free speech protection.”

Below is a brief recap of what has happened in the case:

2020: Paycom files its lawsuit. OCPA files a motion to dismiss under the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act—a law designed to quickly dismiss lawsuits seeking to curtail speech. An Oklahoma County judge dismisses the case, holding that “Paycom has failed to show a prima facie case of defamation.” 

2021: In a hyperbolic brief alleging that the governor, the judge ruling in OCPA’s favor, and OCPA were somehow colluding, Paycom appeals the Oklahoma County court’s ruling. OCPA pursues its attorney fees, costs, and a sanction sufficient to deter future lawsuits as is entitled to successful defendants under the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act. OCPA president Jonathan Small is deposed for hours—mostly about matters irrelevant to fees, costs, and sanctions. The Oklahoma Supreme Court sides with Paycom—overruling the Oklahoma County district judge on a technicality. This is despite Oklahoma law saying the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act “shall be construed liberally to effectuate its purpose and intent fully.”

2022: In addition to a lot of litigation and attorneys fees, a possible settlement is discussed but goes nowhere. Paycom attempts yet again to have the court compel OCPA to turn over lists of its donors and email list subscribers, similar to the efforts of segregationists during the Jim Crow era. The court denies Paycom’s attempts to violate the association rights of OCPA’s supporters. That same week, Governor Kevin Stitt defeated Joy Hofmeister, who was supported by many in Paycom’s leadership.

2023: Jonathan Small is again dragged into an all-day deposition covering mostly irrelevant topics, including whether COVID-19 was a big deal. Paycom also tries to pass a bill that would allow it to file these kinds of lawsuits without having to pay attorneys fees when its cases are dismissed. Governor Stitt vetoes the bill and the House of Representatives votes to uphold Stitt’s veto. 

2024: Paycom again tries to pass a bill through the Oklahoma Legislature, SB 1737, that would allow for a civil cause of action for certain actions, many of which are protected speech.


[This article was updated on April 23 to provide additional quotations and information about attorneys' fees.]

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

Ryan Haynie Criminal Justice Reform Fellow

Ryan Haynie

Criminal Justice Reform Fellow

Ryan Haynie serves as the Criminal Justice Reform Fellow for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Prior to joining OCPA, he practiced law in Oklahoma City. His work included representing the criminally accused in state and federal courts. Ryan is active in the Federalist Society, serving as the Programming Director for the Oklahoma City Lawyer’s Chapter. He holds a B.B.A. from the University of Oklahoma and a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. He and his wife, Jaclyn, live in Oklahoma City with their three children.

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