by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Republican Party has filed an ethics complaint against state Rep. Barry Hyde, who plans to run for state Senate next year.
The Republican Party says it believes Hyde failed to report expenditures from his carryover funds from his last House race on his coming Senate race. He spent money on, among others, website design, a political consultant and newspaper ads at the end of 2010, but apparently charged these expenses to his 2010 House campaign. The GOP argues that he prepaid 2012 expenses with this money and it should have been reported as 2012 expenses.
But there's more than reporting miscues at issue. By law, winning candidates can only keep an amount equal to their annual salary — about $15,000 in the case of a representative — for carryover use. It can be applied to a future race or for legitimate expenses of office, but not for personal use. The Republicans argue that Hyde improperly used some $30,000 of more than $46,000 in surplus to prepay 2012 expenses when the law allows excess over the official's annual pay to be spent only in refunds to contributors or contributions to the state treasury, a political party, cities or nonprofit organization.
I have a call in to Hyde. Hyde's spending, which indeed looks suspect on the surface, will be a handy distraction for Republicans on the issue of their lead candidate for the job, Rep. Jane English. She's moved from her current legislative district so she'll be eligible to run for the Senate seat. This raises a question about her continuing eligibility to serve in the House seat. That's a question for the House to decide, however, not a court.
UPDATE: Hyde says website and consulting expenses were for the 2010 race, not the Senate race. He said he hasn't been billed yet for website and consulting work for the 2012 race, though some work has been done. But he said he "might have a problem" on the newspaper ads and has been talking to the Ethics Commission about it. His explanation is that he makes an annual purchase of newspaper ads of a public service nature, which would be allowable with his carryover up to an amount equal to his salary. But those ads were converted to Senate campaign ads without being charged as Senate expenses. And the money for those ads, though perhaps devoted in part to community service advertising, clearly came from money in excess of his pay. It "gets confusing," dealing with all the deadlines and reports and exceptions, Hyde said. If an error was made, he said, it was an "honest one." He said he'd never had a complaint about his reporting before and that he takes the responsibility seriously. "We’ll explain ourselves to the Ethics Commission. .. We’re going to do the best we can and when we make an error we're going to do what it takes to make them right."