Tired old pay-to-play criticism falls flat

Law & Principles

Jonathan Small & Ryan Haynie | September 15, 2022

Tired old pay-to-play criticism falls flat

Jonathan Small & Ryan Haynie

One way the left tries to discredit conservatives is to attack their motives, claiming that conservative policymakers are driven not by principles or ideas but by profit. For instance, when conservative officials oppose gun control, the left claims the NRA (and its “blood money”) is the reason. This claim is demonstrably false.

The NRA is nowhere near the top level of political donors. But even if it was, are politicians changing their views on guns because of contributions? Or is the NRA giving to candidates who already support its position? Clearly, it’s the latter.

A similar attack has been made against OCPA by leftist media outlets and opponents of education freedom. In June, David Prater, a district attorney known for political hit jobs, filed charges against the founders of Epic Charter School, claiming they embezzled funds. The case has not gone to trial, but investigators claim the Epic founders used Epic funds to pay some undisclosed portion of their personal credit card expenses.

In typical David Prater fashion, the affidavit goes into extensive-but-selective detail. It turns out the Epic founders donated a lot of money to political candidates, lobbyists, and nonprofits. OCPA was one of those nonprofits, having received a donation from David Chaney.

OCPA also published criticism of an audit of Epic Charter Schools, calling attention to ignorance of state law, the questionable credentials of the person who conducted the audit, and an unusual refusal to include responses with the audit. An OCPA article by Mike Brake also noted that some parents ignored the controversy because Epic served their students better than traditional government schools.

The politically paranoid always find conspiracies among those on the other side of the political divide. It’s one way to avoid substantive conversations about important public policies. Here’s another NRA example to show the absurdity of these claims.

Let’s say Bob is a gun owner who feels strongly about the right to self-defense. Bob pays for an NRA membership and financially contributes to their political efforts. Which is more likely? Does the NRA lobby for gun issues because Bob gave them money, or does Bob give to the NRA because it lobbies on gun issues?

While many on the political left seem to think it’s the former, anyone with common sense knows it’s the latter.

The question isn’t whether OCPA received anything from Epic. That is clearly false. The question is, as in the NRA example above, did David Chaney’s support for OCPA change our position? Or did he support OCPA because we have long championed school freedom in all its forms, including charter and online programs like Epic? The latter is the case.

OCPA has also written extensively about government accountability and auditing. We have referenced, without criticism, audits by State Auditor Cindy Byrd that identified failures in Oklahoma’s Medicaid program and at the state Department of Education. But just as OCPA works to improve education, including school choice, we have also called for better government audits. Thus it’s no surprise that, in 2020, OCPA criticized an audit that failed to meet basic legal and accounting standards and called for Oklahoma to adopt a California law prohibiting private management of charter schools. Such a recommendation, tantamount to taxpayer-funded lobbying, flies in the face of many successful examples of privately managed charter schools.

OCPA has long championed school choice and better audits. A donation amounting to less than 1% of the organizational budget did not suddenly convince us to take those positions. Donors support OCPA every day because we are unwavering in our pursuit of policies that advance free enterprise, limited government, individual initiative, and personal responsibility. We want a more transparent government and for every child to have an excellent education, and we welcome donations from anyone who agrees with those free-market, pro-family objectives.

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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