by Max Brantley
It's the Arkansas Faith and Freedom Coalition, led by Sen. Gilbert Baker. It's affiliated with the sleazy political operation of the discredited Ralph Reed, who uses religious voters as dupes when he's not pulling shady lobbyist deals.
A spokesman for Ralph Reed's gang admits to spending in six-figure range — $100,000? $200,000? $999,000? — to elect legislators in Arkansas. They've already spent money to help a Republican, Henry Frisby of El Dorado, beat Democrat Bobby Pierce of Sheridan in a Senate race. And this greasy bunch has, appropriately, already been spending money on Jason Rapert, the reactionary Tea Party Republican who's heavily strumming the Religious Right banjo to beat solid middle-of-the-road Democrat Linda Tyler in Conway.
I have sent simple questions to Gilbert Baker. In which races is his group spending? How much is it spending? Who contributed the money?
UPDATE: answers to above questions from Sen. Baker:
1. not sure
2. not sure
3. people concerned about faith and freedom
I wasn't holding my breath for answers. These sleazy independent groups don't believe in transparency. Whether it be these good Christians, the Koch Billionaires' Americans for Prosperity or the even more shadowy 60 Plus outfit, all spending heavily to build an Arkansas Republican majority. And there are probably others who are spending "independently" here, though always in ways tailored to the message of the Republican candidates and the Republican Party. Some coincidence. You can't find the slug trail of such groups in campaign finance records as a rule, because they claim to be "educational" organizations not engaged in direct advocacy. It is one of the great shames of court and ethical regulation in this country that you can send a mass mail piece calling a Democratic candidate a mother raper and it not be construed as reportable "direct advocacy" unless you use magic words like "vote for" or "vote against." The words need not be spoken to understand the guidance of the mail.
It is to laugh to see Gilbert Baker claim he founded the Arkansas chapter of this pass-through organization for Republican Darth Vader money to combat the excesses of both political parties. When Gilbert Baker backs a Democrat over a Republican, get me the smelling salts. He also promises to defend religious freedom — presumably freedom as envisioned by Justin Harris and Johnny Key, to name a couple of Republican legislators, who think tax money should be used to promote their particular brand of religion and who also believe government may properly be used to limit the religious and personal freedoms of others.
Baker's web description of his organization's founding principles also omitted the practical reason for his creation of this group — a potential source of income for a term-limited Arkansas legislator. This won't be his only political gig, protected by a Republican-endorsed rule change that enables term-limited legislators to hit the revolving door to the lobby Jan. 1. He's expected to be tapping the business lobby, too, for campaigns to continue to beat up on unions and on judges who believe injured people deserve redress in the courts. Faith and Freedom? Wait until you taste his lobby's idea of freedom.