by Max Brantley
If we had ethical disclosure laws worthy of the name, we'd at least be able to put a price tag on the cumulative sum being spent by Republican groups and their allies to buy control of the Arkansas legislature, the last Democratic majority in the deep South.
Just yesterday, GOPAC dropped $12,000 on a smattering of legislative races. That's nothing.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national organization, is spending untold sums to buy Republican seats in Arkansas. They are on the radio in the hills and hollows of Perry and Yell County, for example, (the land where Republican Senator Bruce Holland famously tried to outrun cops in a 100-mph Cannonballl Run). Their aim there is to beat a solid Democrat, incumbent Rep. John Catlett, with an extremist named Mary Bentley who spends most of her time spitting out the word Obama like a curse and vowing to end women's medical rights.
You can see the RSLCCis also going after Sen. Mike Fletcher, the retired state trooper seeking to hold a Senate seat from Hot Springs. It's a typically dishonest ad. It says Fletcher voted to increase the gas tax. He didn't. He voted to refer a ballot question on a gas tax for a highway plan to voters (as did then-House Republican Leader John Burris). This is the tax increase Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr supported afterpolitical contributions from fat cats, mostly related to the Murphy Oil fortune on which Highway Commissioner Madison Murphy depends. Darr is a Republican, along with Sen. John Boozman, who really DOES support a gas tax increase.
There's no telling how much other groups — the Kochs' American for Prosperity, Sixty Plus and other allied Republican groups are spending. The campaign of Rep. Tiffany Rogers, seeking a farmbelt Senate seat from Stuttgart, checked the books and found that the Kochs' AFP has bought $35,000 worth of TV time to beat her and elect Republican Jonathan Dismang. This is on top of thousands of dollars worth of direct mail and a bus tour that includes subsidized tanks of gas for all who come out to hear the AFP message for select Republican Senate candidates. Voters in Stuttgart should remember that AFP, though it does provide cut-rate gas as inducements for electoral support, has characterized rice belt farmers as welfare moochers.
We don't begin to have an idea of the millions being spent by Republican interests to wrest control of the Arkansas legislature. And we likely never will, given the porous nature of campaign finance laws and a wholly inadequate ethical regulation structure. The Republican candidates, we are learning, will put whatever TV buys are necessary on a consultant's credit card and hope for victory, with the guaranteed lobbyist repayment of debt it will bring for victory. It would be nice to see a few of these smart boys left holding a credit card bill with a punishing interest rate, like the rest of America left reeling by Republican tax-cut and spend on war policies.