Friday, April 18, 2008

Beaucoup Boodlers

Arkansas political news this week included a story about State Representative Robbie Wills (D-Conway), who spent campaign funds on gifts for fellow legislators during his efforts to become Speaker of the House and also declared that a flight from a Colorado ski resort vacation back to Arkansas to ride in a parade was a legitimate campaign expense. Wills made promises to raise money for a Republican legislator he thought would be unopposed in exchange for support in his Speaker's bid. It raised questions about his judgment for the Northwest Arkansas Times, but it also points up the obscene influence of money in state politics.

The Arkansas Times Blog wrote of the above episode, “Maybe it's legal. But it stinks. If the law allows this kind of boodling, the law is an ass. Campaign funds should be legally [used] only for election expenses…. How much help does an unopposed candidate need?” Representative Wills has no opponent this year, but so far he took $53,895 in contributions, spent $33,319 on whatever, and still has $20,575 cash on hand, including a $2,000 check he took from tobacco giant Philip Morris after the filing deadline when he knew he would have no opposition.

Unopposed legislators taking contributions from special interests does not pass the smell test, especially when they take the money after the filing deadline. It differs only in form from taking the money and putting it in your pocket in exchange for influence. The difference is that campaign contributions are supposed to be disclosed so the public knows who is bankrolling the politicians, and a review of required reports for unopposed local legislators is revealing.

Representative-elect Jonathan Barnett (R-Siloam Springs) does not appear to have filed any of the legally required reports by the April 15 deadline, so we don't know much about him, other than his attitude about complying with the ethics law. State Representative Jon Woods (R-Springdale) has not filed any of the required monthly reports since that for January. He took $5,250 that month, not a penny from his district but gladly from Stephens, Inc., Wal-Mart, Entergy, Southwestern Energy, Realtors, Pharmacists, etc. Senator Kim Hendren (R-Gravette) reports a haul of $10,600 with $23,855 in the bank. He took $3,000 from Stephens, Inc., including $1,000 of that after the filing deadline.

Rep. Donna Hutchinson (R-Bella Vista) took $6,485, including money from ENPAC and Stephens, Inc. after the filing deadline when she knew she would have no opponent. Stephens, Inc. was the source of $1,500 of her total $6,485. House District 94 candidate Les Carnine (R-Rogers) failed to report his cumulative contributions as required, but he ended up with $8,381.68 in the bank after filing expenses. Most of that came from groups outside his district, like the Wholesale Beer Distributors PAC, but including Richard Abernathy of Bryant, one of the finalists for Fayetteville School Superintendent.

The King of Grifters this year is new House candidate Uvalde Lindsey (D-Fayetteville) who has taken in $41,470. Those giving him money include $2,000 each from Jim Walton, Lynne Walton, Alice Walton, and Rob Walton, accounting for 1/5 of his total. Other big contributors included Don and John Tyson and Gene and Gary George for the chicken interests; Bill Ramsey of the Cowbirds; Mike Malone from the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives; Cynthia Coughlin, home detention hall monitor for husband Tom; Martin Schoppmeyer who runs a charter school; Alderman Bobby Ferrell; and School Board Member Howard Hamilton. Jeff Koenig gave him $1,000, and Walt Eilers handed over $150. Lindsey has $27,718 in his campaign account, including the money he took from Southwestern Energy PAC after the filing deadline.

Senator Sue Madison (D-Fayetteville) reported only $3,800 in contributions, but that included $1,000 from AHC-PAC after the filing deadline, leaving a balance of $12,745 in her campaign account. Rep. Lindsley Smith (D-Fayetteville) reported a $25 contribution, which she appears to have returned after the filing deadline, leaving her with $97.18 in the bank.

This taking of money by unopposed candidates is all legal, by the way, under Arkansas law. That's one way they remain unopposed in elections. Now, pay attention to how these peckerwoods vote on special interest legislation in the 2009 legislative session and see if you can connect the dots.

No comments:

Post a Comment