by Max Brantley
As you may know, the Arkansas Ethics Commission is weighing my complaint that the backers of the Little Rock sales tax campaign did not comply with campaign disclsoure law in reporting of campaign expenditures. Essentially, the committee reported only payments to the company, the Markham Group, that managed the campaign. Street money? TV? Radio? Printing? Mailing? No specific checks for these payments were listed, though this is precisely the sort of reporting required of political candidates and precisely the sort of reporting necessary for full accountability in the conduct of election campaigns.
The same secretive tactics were used in the campaign to win voter approval of highway bonds.
The most recent report is a good example. In a Nov. 4 report, the Move Arkansas Forward committee reported raising and spending almost $300,000 on the successful campaign. Most of the money came from highway contractors and major businesses.
How was the money spent in "itemized expenditures of $100 or more"? The latest report listed a grand total of five expenditures:
* $235,746 to Craig Douglass Communications, in three checks, for "broadcast production, news conf., media buys, printing, TV spot buys, lodging, mileage, shipping charges, professional services, web hosting, dubs, broadcast producting, public relations."
* $20,000 to the Markham Group, in two checks, for a "management fee."
This is, in short, ludicrous. If the law hasn't been written carefully enough that people like Douglass and the Markham Group (also the money laundry for the Little Rock sales tax campaign) aren't required to report specific payments in behalf of a campaign committee, the law needs to be tightened. I think and hope the Ethics Commission will say the law requires this now. If not, surely the Arkansas Republican Chairman, who marks the sparrow's fall on campaign reports (at least those by Democrats), will join me in a good government initiative on this.
By way of history, a former Arkansas political candidate, known to many as the Huckster, tried this scheme once. He tried to say disclosure of payments to his credit card company was sufficient specific disclosure. He thought he need not disclose the expenditures covered by those credit card payments. The Ethics Commission, in a brighter, more ethical day, didn't buy it. He had to disclose the underlying expenses. The rules should remain the same for ballot question committees. Don't we all — people, corporations, committees — now have personhood?