Election Commission orders Cherokees for Change to stop campaign contributions

Shown is a screenshot of the Cherokees for Change LLC website. The Cherokee Nation's Election Commission on May 6 issued a letter to the LLC ordering it to stop contributing to the David Walkingstick-Meredith Frailey campaign. Walkingstick is running for principal and Frailey for deputy chief. COURTESY

TAHLEQUAH -- The Cherokee Nation Election Commission is demanding that a limited liability company stop contributing to the campaign of David Walkingstick and Meredith Frailey, who are running for principal and deputy chief, respectively.

A cease-and-desist letter unanimously approved on May 6 by the EC is addressed to Cherokees for Change LLC and its registered agent, Gregory Russell Appleton. Attorney General Todd Hembree said he recommended the action because CN "law specifically says all donations must be made by natural persons."

The letter signed by EC Chairwoman Shawna Calico states Cherokees for Change "is engaged in violations" of election law that states, "Contributions may only be made by individual natural persons. No corporation, partnership, and/or any other legal entity shall contribute to any Cherokee Nation campaign or candidate."

Digital advertising and direct mail paid for by Cherokees for Change LLC "constitutes an in-kind contribution," EC officials said.

"This letter shall serve as notice to you that further contributions to candidates, either monetary or in-kind, and other illegal campaign activity must completely cease, effective immediately," the letter states. "If you fail to cease engaging in this illegal activity, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission may take available civil legal recourse against you, individuals and legal entities who donated illegally to Cherokees for Change LLC, and any candidate or other person working in coordination with Cherokees for Change LLC."

Cherokees for Change is listed with the Oklahoma Secretary of State's Office as having an Oklahoma City address. It was formed on Feb. 21, according to state records.

Appleton's attorney, A.J. Ferate of the Spencer Fane law firm, said his client did not make in-kind contributions to the Walkingstick-Frailey campaign.

"There's a very major difference between in-kind contributions and an independent expenditure," Ferate said. "There's no prohibition on that in Cherokee law."

The EC's move followed an investigation by Hembree's office. In a report dated May 3, Hembree states, "There is significant evidence that illegal in-kind contributions have been and continue to be made to the Walkingstick campaign by Cherokees for Change LLC. Investigation into this matter is ongoing..."

The attorney general's probe was prompted by a complaint filed April 23 by CN citizen Elizabeth Stroud, who accused Cherokees for Change LLC of "blatant violations of campaign finance laws."

"The financial agent for the Walkingstick campaign is Gregory Russell Appleton, who is not a Cherokee citizen," Stroud's complaint states. "Appleton is also the registered agent for Cherokees for Change. This is a direct link between Walkingstick's campaign and the illegal activities of Cherokees for Change. The coordination of these efforts is open and blatant."

Ferate said Appleton was briefly a financial advisor for the Walkingstick campaign.

"That ended some time ago," Ferate said. "He left the campaign before starting this entity."

A financial disclosure report filed by the Walkingstick campaign on March 15 lists Appleton as the campaign's financial agent through Feb. 28. The next report for March 1-31, filed April 18, lists Walkingstick as the financial agent.

The Walkingstick campaign had no comment regarding the EC's vote to send the cease-and-desist letter.

Click here to view investigation documents.

Click here to view the Election Commission letter.