by Max Brantley
I won't fully rehash my long history of agitating for full disclosure in ballot issue campaigns. Typically, the campaigns (in Little Rock and statewide — see the highway tax campaign, particularly) have disclosed only payments to professional campaign managers, who in turn have parceled out the money in ways that have NOT been specifically disclosed as the law clearly intends. (The Ethics Commission has decided inadequate drafting didn't make that specific disclosure mandatory and plans to seek changes in the law in 2014 to require it.)
Gary Smith, treasurer of the campaign, and representatives of the Markham Group, again managing the campaign as it managed the city sales tax campaign over which my ethics complaint arose, had said previously there'd be specific disclosure in this campaign.
Having looked, I'm not ready to provide a standing ovation.
Here's the latest filing from the committee Keep Building Little Rock's Future. Through early this week, it had raised almost $60,000 and spent about $31,000. Top contributors were 50 for the Future, $9,600, and, at $5,000 each, the Friday Law Firm, Stephens Group, McGeorge Contracting and First Security Bank.
On the expenditure side, apart from a $1,000 payment to a campaign staffer, all payments are again listed to the Markham Group. They are labeled as to purpose — push cards, printing, postage and the like. But if these costs went to pay sub-contractors, none is listed. Given what's been spent so far, I agree that not much useful information would necessarily be revealed in deeper disclosure. But the principle is key. Think of campaigns where broadcast advertising and get-out-the-vote workers are employed. These are the sorts of things worth knowing. Indeed, even the names and hometowns of direct mail contractors are of interest, particularly to local business people. Did a government seeking a property tax increase, for example, bypass a local taxpaying business to place work in another city?
There's a move toward more disclosure in this report, yes. I also should note that the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce isn't serving as administrator, headquarters and puppeteer of this campaign, as in the sales tax campaign. Of course, this tax doesn't include a $20 million-plus gratuity for a Chamber pet project (tech park), as the sales tax did.