by Max Brantley
11th hour campaign news:
Republicans are raising questions about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Beebe’s use of his abundant campaign money.
According to his latest report, Beebe’s campaign made two contributions Oct. 5 to the Democratic Party of Arkansas totaling $230,000.
Top Democrats are currently occupied with the Clinton visit to Jonesboro (more than 1,000 at the airport, we heard) to take questions just now. But Republicans believe the money is a transfer to pay for final TV advertising for other Democratic candidates, particularly Bill Halter. They believe, further, that this is effectively Beebe’s payoff to Halter for not making a run for governor in the primary as he once contemplated. Beebe was unopposed, so Halter’s decision was worth millions in saved fund-raising effort. “It appears Mike Beebe has reached out to Bill Halter in a way that could reflect the bridging of gaps between the tension that occurred when Halter was considering running for governor,” said Republican Party executive director Clint Reed.
The alleged quid pro quo, suggestive though the circumstances might be, is not the specific issue, however. The specific issue is that the state Ethics Commission staff says state law prohibits state political candidates from making contributions from their campaign funds to the state party before a campaign is concluded. Once an election is over, the party is one of the legitimate recipients of surplus campaign money. But, during the campaign, the Ethics Commission believes (though this apparently has not been tested in court or commission proceeding) that a contribution of a candidate’s money to the party amounts to a prohibited “personal use” of campaign money. You can see the logic. Campaign contributions are for a campaign, not for expenditures that might be useful, entertaining or otherwise rewarding to the candidate.
“My interpretation of the Arkansas law is that this would be a suspect contribution to the Democratic Party,” the Republicans’ Reed said.
Reed wasn’t prepared to say if Republicanas would file a formal complaint. It couldn’t be considered until long after Tuesday’s election. Reed was busy Friday in NW Ark., preparing for George Bush’s visit Monday.
Democrats might ask: What about the $125,000 of leftover federal campaign money that Asa Hutchinson gave the Arkansas Republican Party in 2005, when he expected to have a primary race against Win Rockefeller in 2006? Though the circumstances are so similar in practice as to be indistinguishable (each is a case of excess campaign money given to the party), Reed says federal law allows unlimited transfers from a federal candidate committee to state party federal accounts. Furthermore, he says, the Ethics Commission has no jurisdiction over federal contributions or expenditures.
More on this as I get callbacks.
UPDATE: John Whiteside, executive director of the Arkansas Democratic Party, responds:
1) Quid pro quo? "Ridiculous." (Bill Halter's campaign says the allegations are simply "not true."
2) Use of the money: The party has raised more than enough, without the Beebe money, to pay for issue ads for Bill Halter and a number of other Democratic candidates. The Beebe money has been used by the coordinated campaign effort to get out the vote.
3) Is it legal: He's asking the party attorney to provide a response on this part of the question.
UPDATE II: Asa Hutchinson jumped on the issue at a news conference today, calling the contribution a sign of corruption in the Beebe campaign, according to a second-hand account from another Republican official. A portion of his news release is on the jump, OK until it gets to the part where The Huckster talks about what an open and accountable government he's run. Uh huh.
HUTCHINSON NEWS RELEASE
Fayetteville – Asa Hutchinson, the 2006 Republican nominee for Arkansas Governor, joined today with Republican candidates and elected officials to remind voters about the values at stake in this year’s election, and to warn against a return to machine politics and one-party rule in Arkansas.
In a Fayetteville news conference, Hutchinson and other elected officials gathered four days before Election Day to remind voters how clear the contrasts between the two parties have become on such defining issues in Arkansas as defending life, cutting taxes, defending traditional marriage, defending local schools from closure and cracking down on illegal immigration.
Hutchinson also pointed to the recent revelation that his Democratic opponent, Mike Beebe, had contributed $230,000 from his campaign to the Democratic Party of Arkansas in an apparent violation of state campaign finance laws.
Hutchinson noted that Beebe’s contribution of the funds suggests that, even before he is elected, Beebe is setting the course for what Arkansas would look like under his leadership – a state where powerful insiders need not follow the rules and make special arrangements to secure and hold political power.
“We saw what happens when one party dominates and there are not checks and balances,” Hutchinson said. “During the early 1990s one party dominated every branch of government, resulting in notorious scandals on a regular basis as supposed public servants ripped off and abused the public on a regular basis.”
“When Gov. Huckabee finally took office, we finally had a leader who wasn’t party of the Good Ole Boys network and was willing to stand up to the corruption taking place in the Arkansas Legislature,” Hutchinson said. “Let’s not go back to those bad old days.”
Hutchinson was joined by Republican statewide, legislative, and county officials and candidates who emphasized what is at stake for Arkansas this election and urged supporters to reach out to independents and conservative Democrats to go to the polls and vote values over partisanship.
“This election is about more than any one candidate, and it’s about more than a political party,” Hutchinson said. “It’s about leadership and the future direction of our state.
“It’s about values, and who best represents the values of Arkansans. I am pro-life; my opponent pro-choice. I want to train state police to crack down on illegal immigration in Arkansas; my opponent opposes this,” Hutchinson said. “I want to eliminate the grocery tax immediately; my opponent says we can’t afford this. The contrasts between us are clear. Arkansas is at a crossroads – to either move forward based on the values we as Arkansans hold dear, or to go back to government by a few powerful insiders.”
Gov. Mike Huckabee offered a statement of support for the Republican team, urging Arkansas to consider how far the state has come in developing a more open and accountable system of government from the days when the state was gripped by corruption and high taxes under single-party rule.