Columns » Max Brantley

Adios Arkansas

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One of Gov. Mike Huckabee’s trademark slush funds is no more. We learned this week that his chief of staff, Brenda Turner, notified the secretary of state in July that the Conservative Leadership for Arkansas Political Action Committee (CLAPAC) was going out of business.

In its final quarter of operation, CLAPAC handed out $5,400 to political candidates — $1,000 each to Roger Harrod, a candidate for state Supreme Court, and Robert Moore, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division director and unopposed Democratic candidate for the state legislature; $2,000 to the Asa Hutchinson campaign for governor; $500 each to two statewide Republican candidates, Chris Morris, the nominee for treasurer, and Jim Lagrone, the nominee for secretary of state; and $100 each to four legislative candidates, Chee Chee Tamburo of Heber Springs, Ted Harden of White Hall, Cody Hiland of Greenbrier and Hoyt Johnson of Ashdown.

The final quarter was typical of previous reports. It showed extraordinary administrative expenses for an organization that cut a handful of checks and filed a perfunctory quarterly report. The PAC spent $4,160 in addition to the contributions, more than $2,800 of it to the JPMS Cox accounting firm that has handled bookkeeping for a variety of Republican- and Huckabee-oriented money vehicles. This followed $5,200 for mailing and accounting expenses in the first quarter — when the business consisted of processing two contributions.

The committee was set up in 2000. Its charter said it would promote conservative candidates for Arkansas public office. We’ve written for years about its high administrative expenses, including political consulting and travel. Huckabee and Turner have refused to explain how these expenses fit the organization’s objective.

The percentage of administrative expenses to direct expenditures on candidates would be scandalous for a legitimate nonprofit. All told, based on incomplete on-line records, the PAC raised at least $341,000, while spending about $146,000 on contributions to candidates. The rest went to overhead, a whopping 57 percent of the take.

Last year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette took a look at CLAPAC’s activities. In 2005, a non-election year, CLAPAC spent more than $42,000 on administrative expenses, including work by political consultant Dick Dresner and trips to Washington. Spokesmen for Huckabee suggested some of the travel might have been related to his position as an official of the National Governors Association, though that would hardly qualify as support for an Arkansas candidate.

CLAPAC joins the Mansion expense account, various campaign accounts, political party accounts and an inaugural account among the honor roll of slush funds Huckabee has operated at the outer limits of what the law allows. Thanks to lax enforcement, he has dodged accountability repeatedly. A real Ethics Commission would be combing financial reports for the sorts of anomalies that scream out from CLAPAC’s filings.

CLAPAC, with its restrictive charter, is of little use to the lame duck Huckabee now. He has a new national slush fund, the Hope for America PAC registered in Virginia. He is equally secretive about it and the fat cats — many of them recipients of gubernatorial favors and business — who fund it, including with dubious “in-kind contributions” of private jet service. His ways haven’t changed, in other words. He’s merely ended any pretense of raising money for Arkansas candidates. Now The Huckster belongs to the world. Contributions are welcome.


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