Potential financial misconduct or impropriety are at the heart of complaints lodged against two of the three campaigns for principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.’s campaign is under a microscope for campaign expenditures paid to his father’s company in predominantly rounded figures totaling more than half a million dollars for unspecified consulting fees.
Attorney General Todd Hembree has asked the Hoskin campaign to provide specifics of the expenses based on the categories listed on the financial disclosure report: advertisements, printing, compensation, office expenses, travel, food and miscellaneous.
David Walkingstick’s campaign is accused of coordinating with a corporation — which has been given a cease-and-desist order by the tribal Election Commission — launched by a former consultant of the campaign who has been raising funds to stump for Walkingstick’s election bid.
Walkingstick also allegedly regularly used his tribe-issued cellphone to make calls or texts regarding his campaign.
The Cherokee Nation general election is June 1. Dick Lay is a third candidate seeking the tribe’s top position of principal chief. There have been no complaints filed against Lay’s campaign.
Hoskin-Warner and Cherokee Future
A complaint filed by Adam Shepard and Douglas Shepard in part voices legal, ethical and conduct concerns about the Hoskin campaign, Cherokee Future LLC and Elizabeth Stroud, deputy organizer for both.
Hembree found that Stroud’s dual employment as described doesn’t violate tribal law. Stroud also has lodged complaints against the Walkingstick campaign, including the one that ultimately prompted the cease-and-desist letter.
In a letter dated March 7, Hembree requested the Hoskin-Bryan Warner campaign amend its financial reports “to state with specificity how these funds were spent ... ” He asked for the amendments to be submitted to the Election Commission within five days of receiving the letter.
Campaign finance filings of Hoskin and Warner, running for deputy principal chief, show nearly $600,000 in “Consulting Fees” — categorized under miscellaneous — paid to Cherokee Future LLC.
Cherokee Future is registered to “Chuck Hoskin” in Vinita, according to Oklahoma Secretary of State records. The company’s address matches a property address of Charles T. Hoskin, the father of Chuck Hoskin Jr., according to Craig County records.
Chuck Hoskin Sr. was a long-time state representative. The Vinita Democrat was term-limited in 2018 and now is the mayor of Vinita.
Hoskin Jr. reported expending $339,016.42 with Cherokee Future from December through March. Warner reported expenditures to Cherokee Future of $235,000 in the same span.
The Hoskin-Warner campaign in a statement said that it will comply with the attorney general’s request.
“Cherokee Future is a not-for-profit business established to allow campaigns to process payments to its vendors,” according to the campaign’s statement. “It is completely in compliance with the law. All money that has gone to Cherokee Future has been reported to the Cherokee Election Commission.
“Cherokee Future files reports directly to the Oklahoma Secretary of State and the IRS. Other campaigns have used and are using LLCs — including Chad Smith in his re-election campaign in 2011. We have worked closely with Cherokee Election attorneys to ensure that we followed the letter of the law.”
Hembree on Thursday also responded to a complaint filed by Twila Pennington alleging the Hoskin-Warner campaign failed to disclose the attorney general as a donor.
His wife, Jenine Hembree, is listed as an in-kind contributor of an office or housing space multiple times. Todd Hembree said that in the case of joint property or monetary donation from a shared bank account, the noncontributing co-owners aren’t required to be listed on the financial report.
The complaint also alleges a conflict of interest that should prohibit Deputy Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo and Assistant Attorney General John Young from participating in election investigations.
Hembree disagreed, writing that tribal law allows Cherokee Nation employees to contribute to campaigns. He said campaign restrictions only apply to gaming commissioners, Election Commission members and the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
“The contributions by Mrs. Nimmo and Mr. Young have not created any legal or actual conflict and this office will continue to conduct investigations as prescribed by law,” Hembree said.
In a statement issued through his campaign, Walkingstick said the attorney general is biased and shouldn’t be allowed to continue his “politically motivated” campaign investigations.
“It is unfortunate that the Cherokee Nation Attorney General’s Office is so determined to assist their favored candidate for Principal Chief that they are unwilling to investigate and act upon clear ethical violations regarding the use of Cherokee Future LLC to hide campaign expenses and likely donors,” Walkingstick stated. “The complaints filed by Cherokee citizens against the Hoskin Warner campaign regarding Cherokee Future LLC should be treated with the same level of seriousness as the false claims filed against me by an employee of the Hoskin Warner campaign and Cherokee Future LLC.”
Walkingstick and Cherokees for Change
The Cherokee Nation Election Commission on Thursday scheduled a special meeting for 4 p.m. Friday. The agenda lists an executive session to consider possibly setting a hearing date on election code violation allegations levied against Walkingstick.
The Attorney General’s Office earlier in the afternoon released an update to its preliminary report on Walkingstick’s alleged connections to Cherokees for Change, a political activity group:
• Cherokees for Change was established Feb. 21, with Rusty Appleton listed as the agent. Appleton was still listed as a financial agent on Walkingstick’s March 15 financial report. On May 8, Walkingstick amended the document to state Appleton had stopped his role Feb. 28.
• The campaign and Cherokees for Change shared a P.O. box address for almost a month, which Walkingstick’s mother set up in her son’s name. An unknown person at an unknown time crossed out Walkingstick’s name on the paperwork.
• Walkingstick allowed Cherokees for Change to set up in at least one of his official campaign fundraisers to solicit donations. He also funneled potential donors to Appleton so they could give anonymously.
“Under the Cherokee Nation’s laws, corporations are not allowed to make these kinds of in-kind contributions or ‘independent expenditures’ to a candidate under any circumstances,” Hembree wrote. “However, there is evidence of significant coordination between the Walkingstick campaign and Cherokees for Change, LLC.”
A.J. Ferate, an attorney representing Appleton, said he found nothing in the attorney general’s report that alarmed him or triggered a problem.
Ferate said Hembree is missing the point in that there must be intent to give a contribution. Appleton is exercising free speech independent of the campaign with “no way, shape or form” of intent to contribute to it.
Ferate also said that nobody from the tribe has reached out to him or Appleton to hear their perspective on the matter.
“The Cherokee election code has a much less stringent set of laws compared to the federal election law on independent expenditures,” Ferate said. “Not only do I feel that Cherokees for Change complies with Cherokee law, I am convinced it complies with the much more rigorous federal election code.”
Hembree in his report also alleges Walkingstick used his Cherokee Nation Tribal Council cellphone to make “hundreds of campaign related phone calls and text messages totaling more than 81 hours of conversation.”
The attorney general said the tribe’s election code only prohibits use of Cherokee Nation “office phone extensions,” meaning the Election Commission must determine if Walkingstick violated that code.
Brian Berry, attorney for Walkingstick’s campaign, in a statement said he has witnessed how much the administration has worked to discredit Walkingstick and his deputy candidate, Meredith Frailey.
The pair are “up against a ‘machine’ with an unlimited amount of money,” he said.
“Donors to the Walkingstick/Frailey Campaign have been harassed by Cherokee Marshals and questioned like criminals,” Berry said.
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