We reported a while back that Sen. Gilbert Baker had the benefit of a UCA-provided tent and UCA crew for a campaign fund-raiser at the home of UCA trustee Michael Stanton. Political opponents said this didn't pass the smell test.
Baker, to cover himself, asked for an advisory opinion from the state Ethics Commission. It was issued today and it says elected officials should use "extreme caution" about using public property for campaign purposes. It issues no finding in the specific case, but repeats longstanding commission boilerplate advice that public equipment and facilities can't legally be used for political purposes unless they are made equally available to all, regardless of politics.
The original excuse on Tentgate was that UCA would gladly rent tents for anybody who needed one, so there was no foul. (Righto. I think I need a tent to tailgate Saturday at Fayetteville; where do I meet the UCA crew?) This excuse happens to be in keeping with the alibi that UCA would also provide deluxe single-family housing for any student who asked, just as it did for Gilbert Baker's kid. And probably that it would make contributions to any charity, just as it did to a charity that was paying Gilbert Baker a salary to raise money.
Ethics violation or not, the state Democratic Party, which has a strong opponent, Joe White, against Baker this year, calls B.S. on the senator on the jump. I've left a phone and e-mail message for the senator to comment.
DEMOCRATIC PARTY NEWS RELEASE
WHO COMES FIRST FOR GILBERT BAKER?
Today the Arkansas Ethics Commission released an advisory opinion in regard to the potential misuse of University of Central Arkansas (UCA) property for a fundraising event by Sen. Gilbert Baker. The advisory continues to demonstrate Baker's pattern of not putting the people of Faulkner County first.
This troubling pattern was first reported in August when an investigative report revealed that Baker and his family may have received special treatment from UCA.
When asked if Baker and his family had received special housing treatment the former president of the University of Central Arkansas stated "Are they living there because of contacts? Certainly, they'd be in a position to communicate and ask me if I know of a house. From that standpoint, yes, there's probably greater access." [http://www.arktimes.com/Articles/ArticleViewer.aspx?ArticleID=1758a105-17d5-490a-a96c-e0c77e44068e]
Evidence of the pattern was highlighted again today when the Arkansas Ethics Commission stated that public officials are prohibited from using public funds for campaign purposes or receiving special treatment as a result of their elected position. The opinion also encouraged public officials to use extreme caution when using a public facility or its equipment for campaign purposes.
The Commission's opinion was in response to a question brought before them by Baker. The property in question is a tent owned by UCA, and delivered by university employees, used at a Baker fundraising event on June 5, 2008.
Today, the Democratic Party of Arkansas (DPA) asks Gilbert Baker, once again, to explain his actions. Baker needs to clarify who he is serving in the Arkansas State Senate - the people of Faulkner County or himself.
In response to these questions, and all other issues raised regarding his relationship with UCA, Baker has responded that he will not provide an answer until after the election.
"It is clear that Senator Baker is more interested in serving himself than in serving the people of Faulkner County," said DPA spokesman Darinda Sharp. "Senator Baker's stated intention to not respond to questions about his relationship with UCA until after the election is unacceptable. It is time for change, and for an independent voice for Faulkner County. Joe White is that independent voice."