OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Principals in an Altus venture capital program that has created controversy are contributing cash to the Republicans' bid to take over the Oklahoma Senate, beginning with a May 7 special election in southwestern Oklahoma.
Republican officials say the outcome of the race between Democrat Robbie Kerr and Republican Mike Schulz could very well determine which party controls the state Senate next year, something the GOP hasn't done since statehood.
The death this year of Sen. Robert M. Kerr, D-Altus, after a long fight with cancer left the District 38 seat vacant. Robbie Kerr is his widow. Schulz is an area farmer.
The importance of the race was highlighted Friday by a fundraising visit to the First State Bank of Altus by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and state Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, the current GOP leader of the 48-member Senate.
Some principals of the bank, including President Paul Doughty, are officers in Altus Ventures LLC, a company that has been selling tax credits to provide part of the financing for an aerospace company in Altus that plans to build flight training aircraft.
Members of the group have contributed $21,900 to the campaign of state Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, who is running for Congress in the 5th Congressional District of central Oklahoma.
Calvey, as chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, is involved in changing the tax credit program used by the Altus group.
Sen. Ted Fisher, D-Sapulpa, and Tax Commission officials say the tax credit program is being abused and could drain the state treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars if it is not altered.
They say it cost the state about $2 million a year for the first three years it was in effect, but that shot to an estimated $66 million in calendar year 2005. According to officials, some investors are using program to reap profits of 100 percent and up without necessarily creating any jobs that benefit the state.
Doughty defends the program, which is allowing investors to receive a 2-to-1 return on their investment in the Altus project.
``I'm kind of optimistic that the legislation that is coming is something that is positive and won't affect the Quartz Mountain Aerospace project,'' he said earlier in the week.
In the latest campaign report filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Committee, five officials at the Altus bank had contributed $1,050 to Schulz' drive. That included $500 from Lee Doughty, Paul Doughty's cousin and an official in Schulz' campaign.
Paul Doughty said he made an earlier contribution to Schulz and wrote a couple of $500 checks during Friday's fundraiser on behalf of political action committees of the state Senate and House.
He called Mrs. Kerr a ``wonderful'' person and said either candidate would represent the district well.
But he said he is a Republican who has traditionally made contributions to GOP candidates, including those running for Congress in districts other than District 3, where Altus is located.
Gary Jones, outgoing chairman of the state Republican Party, said Schulz is well known in the district, has a good grasp of the issues and has a good shot at winning.
``This race could possibly determine who controls the Oklahoma Senate,'' said Jones.
Democrats now hold a 25-22 margin in the Senate, but are losing seven more members because of term limits.
Lisa Pryor, state Democratic chairwoman, said the Senate District 38 post is important but is just one of eight that Democrats are trying to hold.
``This is just the first one of those elections that kind of jump starts the campaign season,'' she said. ``We are very well prepared. We have a fabulous candidate who understands her district very well.''
Doughty said he and some of his associates are also contributing to the lieutenant governor candidate Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville. Hiett is now speaker of the state House.
If the Democrats lose one or two of their term-limited seats and do not pick up any seats in Republican areas, election of a Republican as lieutenant governor also could be a big factor in which party controls the legislative body.
The lieutenant governor traditionally has presided over ceremonial functions of the Senate and can vote in case of a tie.