by Max Brantley
Stephens Media takes an advance look at the 2012 campaign to raise the state sales tax a half-cent to pay for an almost $2 billion four-lane road construction program.
The Municipal League remains non-commital, though the proposal includes a split for cities and counties on a portion of the money. The Municipal League, however, has already thrown in on the drive to raise the severance tax on natural gas. It provides for city and county road funding. It also doesn't add to the sales tax burden, local governments' chief source of revenue.
Douglass said the key in promoting the half-cent sales tax will be educating various regions of the state on what kind of highway projects they could expect, and reminding them how much money cities and counties would receive.
“Rather than a statewide effort, I would suspect that the (Move Arkansas Forward) committee will regionalize the campaign based on projects,” he said. “They also will need to stress that it is a temporary sales tax for specific projects.“
Suppose you give money to this campaign and would like to know exactly how Douglass spent this money — your money? Forget about it. Go to the Ethics Commission website to see how Move Arkansas Forward spends its money through Douglass and you'll find little more than checks written to Craig Douglass, who spends the money who knows how (a half-million so far). Now — thanks to a recent Ethics Commission ruling — it has legal protection for not disclosing specific expense payments, despite legislative language that strongly encourages more openness. (The December report, for example, shows $26,000 paid to Douglass for "broadcast production, printing and media buys" and also on-line ads and professional services. See any of that broadcast and media work?) Oh, wait. There also were some checks written in recent months to the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce for "administrative expenses" and for fees to another familiar name, the Markham Group, straw man — excuse me, campaign consultant — for the Little Rock sales tax campaign. The secretive spending of the ghost sales tax campaign of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce is now the fools' gold ethical standard for campaign secrecy until, we can hope, the law on disclosure of ballot issue spending is changed in 2013. I explain this affront to public accountability of campaign spending in this week's column.
I call again on Craig Douglass and Randy Zook of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce to voluntarily disclose specific campaign expenditures in the same manner political candidates are required to disclose expenses. You guys do believe in transparent government, don't you?