by Max Brantley
Late arriving is a legal opinion from Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter on the question of how much money city candidates can stick in their pocket from political campaigns.
Bottom line: It's a bonanza for Mayor Mark Stodola, who has tried to fire Carpenter previously and who, I believe, has pressured Carpenter not to support the clear dictates of the Freedom of Information Act on spending of the tax money pumped every year into the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce (whose president, Jay Chesshir, dined out with the mayor on public airport money on a swell eatathon in Gay Paree last year.)
You can read the opinion for yourself here. I'll save you the trouble. Carpenter says Stodola can ignore black letter ciity ordinance and keep $160,000 or so for himself out of excess campaign money to spend however he wants. State law overrides an effort by the city to be cleaner. (The city ordinance says excess money must be given to the city, a charity or refunded to contributors.) Stodola's money came overwhelmingly from the Good Suit Club in his essentially uncontested race against a joke candidate this year. (Some of that money, of course, came from the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce PAC, which Stodola rewards with continued taxpayer handouts.)
Here's the other bottom line: An honest and true public servant would say, "I'll follow the city law, whether I have to do so or not. I won't take advantage of a non-binding opinion from an unelected official whose job is beholden to me." I can, BTW, dig up an e-mail where Stodola said once that that was his intention with his expected surplus this year, to give it to charity.
What will it be mayor? Money for charity or the city treasury? Or money for your pocket and future political ambitions?
I've sent Stodola an e-mail asking him about his plans. (This has been an issue because Stodola, while claiming pure intentions, has privately told any number of people he didn't think he had to follow the city ordinance and could keep his money. Now comes the moment of reckoning.)
UPDATE: I still haven't heard from Stodola. but the Democrat-Gazette picked up his campaign report yesterday and reported he had a surplus of nearly $40,000. There's an indication on report that he gave money to a city department and charities, but it wasn't clear if that constituted all the surplus. Here's the thing: If Republicans are serious about ethics in government, a step they could take at the state level would be to emulate the city of Little Rock — no carryover money for personal use of any sort by political candidates. It's always been a sop to incumbents. It ought to end.