A longtime Austin-based campaign consultant, once known as Dr. Dirt for his ability to uncover compromising political material, has been accused in federal court of tampering with the property of an Oklahoma state lawmaker by allegedly telling private investigators to put a GPS tracking device on the lawmaker’s pickup.
A lawsuit claims that George Shipley – who has worked mostly for Democrats, including as an adviser to the late Gov. Ann Richards – targeted Oklahoma state Rep. Mark McBride, a Republican who represents an Oklahoma City suburb and is an outspoken opponent of renewable energy subsidies. Shipley is accused of trespassing, invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress by searching for evidence that McBride engaged in sexual misconduct.
The case has a political cast: The suit alleges that around the time Shipley was in touch with private investigators in Oklahoma, he was in contact with Jeff Clark, the Austin-based head of the Wind Coalition, a trade association that does work in Texas and Oklahoma.
Neither Clark nor the Wind Coalition is named as a defendant in the suit.
Shipley told the American-Statesman he would not comment. But in a document filed Thursday in federal court in Oklahoma City, his lawyers say the case should be dismissed, arguing that he personally did not trespass on McBride’s property and that McBride did not explain how placing a tracking device on a vehicle violates Oklahoma law.
Clark, for his part, said, “Neither I nor the Wind Coalition has ever hired Mr. Shipley, or his company, for any purpose. To be even more clear, we have never hired any person or firm to do opposition research in any state. Any assertion to the contrary is false.”
But the mention of Clark in the suit – as well as claims McBride made to investigators in December – underscores the territorial bitterness of energy fights in oil-and-gas-dominated Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is now the second-largest wind producer in the country – after Texas.
McBride has proposed increasing taxes on wind power projects in Oklahoma.
Grand jury probe
An affidavit by an investigator with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation claims that on Dec. 1 McBride reported “he believed someone was following him. A friend of McBride told him the ‘wind group’ wanted to discredit McBride and for McBride to be careful. McBride was attempting to write legislation to tax wind energy companies because he felt that those companies could pay more taxes to Oklahoma.”
On Friday, as part of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the matter, a Travis County state district judge will hold a closed hearing to determine whether Clark and Shipley must travel to Oklahoma to give testimony or provide evidence.
McBride claims in a May filing in federal court in Oklahoma that in November Shipley contacted an Oklahoma private investigative agency and asked an investigator to “uncover information of alleged ‘Weinstein-like’ behavior, sexual misconduct, and possible general corruption,” according to the suit. Shipley also asked the private investigator to find out whether McBride “had used pornography sites to meet up with people and advised of purported domestic violence allegations,” according to the suit.
The suit, which seeks at least $75,000 in damages, doesn’t give a source for those claims, but the Daily Oklahoman reported in April that the private investigators had an audio recording of Shipley offering those instructions.
McBride told the Statesman that he suspected the wind industry of being behind the tracking devices. He thought he was targeted because “I was more vocal” as an opponent.
“They can’t discredit my (position), so if they are involved in this, it’s to discredit me as an individual,” McBride said.
McBride’s campaigns have received at least $12,500 from the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and at least $30,000 from oil and gas companies, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. He is the vice chairman of the Oklahoma House Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, who is leading the grand jury investigation, declined to speak about the case because of the ongoing proceedings. Hunter’s campaign steering committee includes Harold Hamm, the billionaire oil and gas producer who has helped bankroll a group called the Windfall Coalition, which has campaigned against wind energy incentives.
There already has been some fallout from McBride’s claims.
At least one wind energy company dropped out of the Wind Coalition this year after McBride made his accusations. Chicago-based Invenergy, waiting for approval from Oklahoma authorities for a $4.5 billion Wind Catcher project, announced it had ended its membership after McBride’s allegations had surfaced in the Oklahoma media, the Oklahoman reported in March.
“Invenergy has no knowledge as to whether the allegations are true or false,” Invenergy spokesman Patrick Whitty told the Statesman on Thursday. “This was a business decision to minimize unnecessary distraction.”
In May, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law a McBride-sponsored proposal that prohibits the covert use of a GPS tracker.
McBride told the Statesman he found the GPS tracking device after he was informed by a “person concerned” – he wouldn’t name the person – that he should look under his car. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is examining the case as a “threat” against the lawmaker.
McBride’s attorney issued a subpoena to the tracking device manufacturer and determined the device had been operated by an Oklahoma private investigative firm, according to the affidavit by a bureau agent. In February, the private investigator told the state investigator the client was Shipley, according to the affidavit.
Shipley, according to the Oklahoman, instructed private investigators to get photos of McBride, who is married, “partying around” with any girlfriends.
“I appreciate this very much and good hunting, good hunting,” Shipley said in a Nov. 13 phone conversation, according to a recording reviewed by the Oklahoman.
A phone message and email to the private investigator by the Statesman were not returned.
Shipley has long been involved in Democratic politics, working in the 1970s as a junior member on Lloyd Bentsen’s Senate staff. In 1990, Shipley did polling, advertising and issue development for Richards, Bob Bullock and Dan Morales.
“In the pre-1990s era when Democrats dominated, his doctorate in government played into the nickname Dr. Dirt, bestowed for his reputed ability to stir the mud that soiled opponents,” W. Gardner Selby wrote in a 2006 column in the Statesman.
In 2006, with the party marginalized, he signed up to advise independent Carole Keeton’s gubernatorial bid – he had worked with her when she ran for Austin mayor in the 1970s.
That year he told Selby that he was through with collecting political gunk.
“I’m past that in my life; I’ve changed,” Shipley said.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding