At a time when hospitals were overrun with COVID patients and school children were struggling to overcome a lost year of learning, Gov. Kevin Stitt handed out COVID tax dollars to his political donors, former political staff, and projects that had little if anything to do with COVID.
The expenditures included a $3 million PR contract to donor Renzi Stone whose firm was hired to provide “reputation management” for Stitt and his administration, multiple contracts for his campaign manager (who also served on the team that oversaw the deployment of the funds), and non-related expenditures like $18.6 million to modernize welcome centers, $250,000 for the Cattlemen’s Congress, and $70,000 to install a dedicated audio and video network connection that has been used by Stitt to do live TV interviews and to make appearances on national political programs.
COVID dollars could only be legally used for reimbursement for costs related to the COVID-19 public health emergency, which were not in existing budgets.
A state legislative oversight committee found that the administration’s process for spending the dollars lacked structure, transparency, and clarity and used a highly subjective means for approving taxpayer funds. It also raised questions about how the relief funds were used and whether they went to pre-existing needs and government modernization.
- Report criticizes state spending of millions in federal COVID-19 dollars, Tulsa World, 2/4/21
- State auditor finds problems with Oklahoma’s COVID-19 relief fund spending, unemployment, Tulsa World, 7/19/21
- Former Stitt adviser gets contracts from entities that he granted COVID-19 relief funds, Tulsa World, 10/11/21
- Oklahoma health officials are paying $3 million to a PR and marketing firm for COVID-19 messaging and reputation management, State Impact Oklahoma, 11/19/21