Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole wins GOP primary

The House Appropriations chair faced millionaire Paul Bondar.

June 18, 2024, 9:07 PM

The Associated Press projects that incumbent Republican Rep. Tom Cole, chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, will win the 4th congressional district GOP primary in Oklahoma.

With ​22% of votes counted as of ​8:35 p.m. ET, Cole -- who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump -- leads with 67.2%% of the vote. Paul Bondar, his closest challenger, has ​22.5%, the AP reports.

Rep. Tom Cole speaks to a reporter as he arrives for the House Republican Conference caucus meeting in the Capitol, May 22, 2024.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

In addition to Bondar, Cole faced three other GOP primary challengers, Andrew Hayes, Nick Hankins and Rick Whitebear Harris -- who each earned less than 5%. On Friday, in an unusual move, all three released a joint video announcing they would be backing Bondar over Cole, despite not having dropped out themselves.

Cole faced one of his most significant and costly primary challenges this race, since he went to Congress over two decades ago.

Bondar, a political newcomer who recently moved into Oklahoma from Texas, spent millions of his own dollars to wage an unusually competitive race against a 10-term incumbent -- investing more than $4.3 million in advertisements, the advertisement tracking firm AdImpact reported on June 11.

In the process, Bondar has made the unexpected Oklahoma contest the third-most expensive House primary of the year. Cole has spent over $3.1 million ahead of the race, according to Federal Elections Commissions filings, though he has significantly more money on hand than the largely self-funded Bondar.

Bondar challenged Cole from the far right, mounting a campaign focused on issues such as border security, energy independence and inflation, among other things. He has reserved his strongest criticism for Cole's support of American foreign aid, especially money being sent to Ukraine as it battles Russia's invasion from the east.

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Cole. Bondar told ABC News over the weekend that the former president should "change his mind" and back him instead.

Observers had also called attention to ties between Bondar and people connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has led some party leaders in Washington, D.C., to wonder whether Cole is being targeted because of his support for Ukraine.

Paul Bondar is seen in one of his campaign's political ads posted to his website.
Paul Bondar

Bondar has said he grew up in Wisconsin and spent much of his adult life in Illinois. He owned the Bondar Insurance Group in Oak Brook, Illinois, and moved to Texas in 2020, he told KFOR News in Oklahoma City.

A report from The Oklahoman alleged that Bondar has tangential ties to a couple connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The report has led some party leaders in Washington to wonder whether Cole is being targeted because of his support for Ukraine.

Government records show that through business relationships in South Florida, Bondar's wife may have a loose connection to a Russian pop star who has received awards from Putin -- a tie that Bondar's campaign rejects.

His wife Jennifer Bondar, as of 2023, is listed as the principal and manager of an LLC under a Florida address, according to the Florida Department of State Division of Corporations. The address, a condominium complex, is also where the Florida location of Bondar's Insurance company is.

Jennifer Bondar's LLC is in a unit owned by a company called Muza Marin Inc, according to the Broward County Appraiser in Florida. Those records list the registered agent -- or the person that is designated by an LLC to accept official documents on behalf of the small business -- for Muza Marin, Inc. as Lioudmila Issakovitch.

Issakovitch is married to pop star Valery Leontiev, who has a well-established and public relationship with Putin. Leontiev is a recipient of a number of Russian awards from Putin, including the Order of Friendship in 2014 and the Order of the Fatherland in 2022, which he received just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. The performer also sang a duet with Putin at a 2006 conference with the leaders of other former Soviet Union republics.

Bondar and his campaign have rejected any connections between the candidate and the Russian couple, and have denied even knowing them. They say the only connection is that their business partner Maxim Mandric, who had lived in the unit associated with the LLC, had moved to another unit.

"It's important to note that the Bondars did not lease the unit and their business partner moved into another unit last year," campaign spokeswoman Lisa Liebl told ABC News.

The candidate told ABC News in an interview on Saturday that his rise in popularity through the course of the race is "very similar to a Trump movement." He also compared reports about his ties to Russians to the Trump-Russia investigation.

"That's another reason why people think I'm President Trump -- a fake, phony Russia-collusion story," Bondar told ABC News.

"Because of -- I don't even know, I had a 1099 worker who rented an apartment through a real estate company that was being sublet. And the singer … of that property sang [for] Putin's party so they put on there: 'Texan has ties to Russia.' That's very funny, because I'm actually have a little bit of Ukrainian in me, and it shows the desperation and it shows that we're successful. It shows that our campaign is really a well-run campaign," he added.

Bondar's spokeswoman told ABC News the campaign is consulting with lawyers and considering legal action against The Oklahoman because of its report on claims of the possible Russian connection.

ABC News' Hannah Demissie contributed to this report.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated Bondar’s current address. He owns properties in several states and is currently living in a rental home in Stonewall, Oklahoma, according to documents provided by the campaign. He obtained an Oklahoma driver’s license on April 3, 2024.

Related Topics