Fine story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today by Michael Wickline about the crafty way in which several legislators — all Republicans it happens — have devised a way to make a mockery of ethics rules.
According to the story, Sens. Michael Lamoureux, Bill Sample, Johnny Key, Eddie Joe Williams and Cecile Bledsoe gave almost $30,000 from their campaign funds to the campaigns of other Republican legislative candidates.
Former and incoming Republicans House leaders John Burris and Bruce Westerman also gave hundreds of dollars from their surpluses to other Republican legislative candidates.
The ethics rules prohibit giving campaign funds to another campaign. It's deemed a personal use of campaign money, which is prohibited.
Yes, there's a potential loophole, but the use here looks shaky. The law gives candidates some leeway to buy tickets to other campaigns' "ticketed events" if they can demonstrate it advances their own campaign. It helps to attend the event to prove this. Several of the candidates passing money around have no opposition this year so it's hard to see their gain from giving money to others, except in the gratefulness they'll get in return in the legislative process if their investment is rewarded. It's also hard to see how, for example, Eddie Joe Williams of Cabot could argue that giving $2,000 to a Republican candidate in El Dorado advances his Senate campaign. Though the givers in this article claim to have tickets for the events, it's not clear from the story if all attended all the events for which they purchased tickets.
Lamoureux and Burris seem to concede the law is a little ambiguous and could use some fine-tuning. Meaning: if they did wrong it was an honest mistake. I'm not optimistic about what fine-tuning they'd produce if given the chance. (Lamoureux, by the way, also gave contributions that seem problematic on a couple of fronts as personal contributions to congressional campaign funds of Reps. Griffin, Womack and Crawford. The Lamoureux money included corporate contributions, not allowed in federal campaigns. He even gave money to retire campaign debt of Mark Darr and Jim Keet from 2010. How can that be legal? UPDATE: Lamoureux contends legal advice is that, if he had sufficient personal contributions to offset, he can give that amount to congressional candidates. As for the other, why they were "ticketed" events. If you can subvert the law under the guise that tickets are sold, the law is an ass.)
The law should explicitly bar any contribution of campaign money to another campaign. There's no demonstrated need for the loophole Republicans are merrily exploiting. There's also a huge need to end the incumbents' exemption that allows them to retain surplus campaign money equal to their annual salary rather than refund it, give it to the state, a political party or charity. The incumbents' slush fund benefits all — Republican and Democrat — unduly.
The political untouchables with little or no opposition are the ones that pile up cash to enhance the fund-raising of their political soulmates. It amounts, often, to a laundering of the corporate cash, a way for lobby groups to enhance giving to one candidate by effectively funneling it through another.
The Republicans hankering to take control this year, by their deeds, don't seem a good bet for stricter ethics laws.
A couple of Republican legislators dodged complaints in past years about paying money to "ticketed events" of other legislators, though the events were more conventional public events with low ticket prices, as opposed to small gatherings designed specifically as rule workarounds to produce high-dollar checks from others' campaigns. The Ethics Commission also signed off on contributions from political campaigns to a debt retirement event for Jimmie Lou Fisher, long after her gubernatorial race under the theory it was an opportunity for candidates to get together with a lot of people who could potentially be campaign supporters in coming races.
ALSO: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, unopposed for re-election in 2010 and sitting on a huge pile of cash, passed out $26,000, generally at $1,000 a pop, for campaign event tickets for Democratic legislative candidates.
Two wrongs don't make a right. If the Ethics Commission doesn't end the dodge, they might as well cancel the rule that says using campaign money to give to another campaign is a personal expenditure.
On the jump, some specifics of the law:
RULE ON PERSONAL USE OF CAMPAIGN MONEY
Contributions to the Campaigns of Others -Generally, campaign funds may not be used to make a contribution to another candidate’s campaign. Contributions are construed as a personal matter and transferring a contribution from one campaign to another person’s campaign is considered a “personal use” of the funds. However, this general rule is a rebuttable presumption. There could be times and circumstances when a candidate may attend a fund raiser for another candidate and the purpose of attending would be to further the candidate’s own campaign. Therefore, buying a ticket to the fund raiser would be permitted. Factual circumstances thus may justify a departure from the general rule that making a campaign contribution constitutes a personal use of funds. As noted in § 210 below, for this reason, the Commission will review the facts of each such situation separately with the rebuttable presumption that such use is prohibited as a personal use of campaign funds.
Allowable Expenditures-Purchase of Banquet Tickets for Charitable,
Civic, or Political Events
(a) Candidates may purchase tickets from charities, civic organizations and political parties for banquets or other similar special social events. This includes the purchase of a table if the customary and normal practice of the banquet is the purchasing of a table as opposed to individual tickets. Purchase of tickets for a candidate’s spouse and campaign workers is likewise permissible with campaign funds. The presence at a banquet increases public visibility of candidates. If the candidate purchases a table of seats or tickets, the candidate shall make all reasonable efforts to attend the banquet.
(b) Officeholders who ended their campaigns with carryover funds may use these funds to purchase tickets from charities, civic organizations and political parties for banquets or other similar special social events. The presence of officeholders increases the public visibility of officeholders and, for that reason, officeholders who purchase tickets should make all reasonable efforts to attend the banquet. Officeholders may use carryover funds to purchase a ticket for a spouse, but carryover funds should not be used to purchase tickets for State Capitol staff, current staff or former campaign workers.