In this year’s state Labor Commissioner contest, businessman Mark Costello, the Republican, is leading in public opinion surveys. He has a spending advantage over the Democrat, incumbent Lloyd Fields.
In a recent interview, former Labor Commssioner Brenda Reneau said she had “cordial” conversations with Costello earlier this year. However, she asked him about “scuttlebutt” that Jim Marshall, her former aide, was in charge of the Costello campaign.
In reply, Reneau said Costello told her Marshall was “a good friend” but was not playing a role in his campaign, save as a personal advisor.
Marshall left the Labor Department during Reneau’s tenure, and later went to work for Oklahoma County Commissioner Brent Rinehart. Marshall is an ally of Randy Terrill, a Republican and the controversial state representative embroiled in a corruption investigation by the Oklahoma County District Attorney. Terrill supported Fields in 2006, when Fields defeated Reneau.
Reneau is concerned that Marshall’s return to the agency could negatively affect morale and further erode what she calls “the important work” there.
Separately, Costello was asked last spring about Marshall’s rumored involvement. Costello said Marshall had no daily role in the campaign.
However, one of the most respected and experienced radio advertising brokers in the state was ousted from the Costello campaign this summer – and the message was delivered by Jim Marshall.
Jon Nickens’ credentials in Oklahoma media advertising are unassailable. His first client was the late Henry Bellmon, long-time U.S. Senator and twice governor of the state. He has worked steadily for many Republicans, and occasionally leading Democrats, including former U.S. Rep. Glenn English and the late Mike Synar.
Nickens told CapitolBeatOK, “My reputation in serving the client is the most important thing to me. I get my clients radio interviews and ask for the best placement of ads on each station. Since I send the stations their money, unlike other networks, they respond to my requests.”
For purposes of this report, Nickens’ best credential might be his proven ability to make deft ad purchases for former Commissioner Reneau. Nickens was also mastermind of radio strategies for the late 1990s campaign to promote right to work, which passed as a state constitutional amendment in 2001.
In his conversations with Reneau, Costello understated Marshall’s role in his campaign. In interviews and a written description, Nickens described Marshall’s role as Costello’s campaign manager in all but name.
“In March of this year, I was contacted by Jim Marshall to put together a buy for Mark Costello.” Nickens explained, that’s “the Jim Marshall, of the Rinehart and Tim Pope group.” Rinehart, the former county commissioner, and Pope, a former state representative who opposed Reneau in the 2002 GOP primary, were both investigated for violating state laws. Pope died earlier this year.
Costello, working with Marshall, engaged Nickens to arrange radio advertising purchases. Nickens says he “contracted a friend to produce the ad. Mr. Costello wanted a second voice on the ad but did not want Jim Marshall’s voice. He was concerned that the stigma of Marshall would be a hindrance.”
Nickens “contracted Gary Owens to be the second voice. I paid, out of my pocket, $100 for the talent. I told Mark that that was my donation to the campaign.I am sure this was not listed in his campaign donations to the authorities.”
Then, Nickens ran “another schedule for Mark and was asked to put together a very complex schedule that would coincide with his speeches. After hours of work, this was cancelled and I was out of time and effort and long distance calls.
“In the meantime, Jim Marshall told me that Mark had been contacted by an ad agency, Beals and Cunningham, to produce TV and print ads. I asked Jim if I was being replaced and was told in no way would he let that happen.”
Things changed: “On July 8, Jim called and left a message that I was to call him regarding an update. I was sure it was in regards to the pending schedule that had been cancelled. Not! Jim advised me that the agency had made a donation of $2,500 in return for the radio account.”
Marshall dismissed Nickens, even though his campaign role was described by the candidate as “advisory” and that of “a friend.” Nickens told CapitolBeatOK the had “never been released from a campaign.”
Nickens’ conclusions are blunt, and not complimentary to the Republican hopeful: “In my brief association with Mark Costello, I am convinced he asked for the donation in return for the radio account.”