by Max Brantley
I reported Thursday that the committee to pass the Little Rock sales tax increase had reported $203,000 in spending but had failed to disclose how the money was spent (except in the initial disbursement to a consulting firm). I think the law requires more disclosure and the state Ethics Commission will consider my complaint on this next Friday.
Meanwhile, Jim Lynch, who led the opposition to the campaign and gave City Hall a heckuva challenge though outspent better than 20-1 (they raised $10,000) notes that I didn't list all the reported money spent to pass the tax.
Little Rock firefighters also set up the Committee for Little Rock Firefighters Future to pass the tax, with its pay increase for uniform workers (in future years, I should have written originally — the city also backed way off talk of making uniform employees live in the city that pays them). It reported raising (no individual contributions listed) and spending $9,487 in favor of the tax. As with the Committee for Little Rock's Future, almost all of its money went to the Markham Group, the consultants who managed the tax campaign. The firefighters committee did not disclose any specifics on how the $8,400 it sent the Markham Group was spent.
This committee did not even bother to break down into broad categories how the money was spent, as the
Committee for Little Rock's Future did after I complained on lack of disclosure.
Was the firefighters' money segregated by the Markham Group and spent specifically for that committee? Or was it folded into the $203,000 in one big pot? How was it spent? Who knows? This is not transparency in government, that much is sure. Lynch comments:
Today's public distribution of the tax election's campaign finance reporting raises a question in my mind and perhaps you know the answer. The "Committee for LR's Future" reported raising $203,000, however, does this total include another $9,000 or so expended by the LR Firefighters Ballot Question Committee? I think perhaps it does not. At the Ethics Commission web site, the BQC filings are shown and the LR firefighters show they raised $9,400 and sent $8,000+ to the Markham Group for direct mail. Friends told me they received pro-sales tax mailers with the Firefighters Committee shown as the responsible party.
If my line of logic is anywhere near correct, that seems to put the acknowledged pro-city sales tax spending at about $212,000. This sum is equivalent to $17.61 per vote. ($212,000 divided by 12,041 votes for the 5/8 cent question)
On the other side of the issue, our $500 Million Tax—Too Much! campaign spent $10,300 to capture 10,266 votes — 99 cents per vote.
Are there perhaps other "hidey holes" of funds for the pro-tax group? The public deserves to know.