Circuit Judge Shawn Womack, the candidate for associate justice of the state Supreme Court, does not have records on file with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office itemizing some 45 percent of his total campaign contributions for a previous judicial race.
Womack first ran for the circuit judge seat in the 14th Judicial District in 2008 after serving ten years in the state legislature (first in the House, then in the Senate). He had two opponents in the race, Harrison attorney Gail Campbell and Yellville attorney Chris Carter. Womack secured a plurality of the vote in the spring judicial election, sending the contest to a runoff that November between him and Campbell. Womack edged out Campbell in the runoff, 49-51.
Campaign contribution and expenditure reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office show that Womack received a cumulative $38,330 throughout the duration of the campaign, from October 2007 to the end of 2008. Unsurprisingly, the largest reporting period by far was from April 1 to May 10, right before the judicial election that year: Womack received a total of $17,350 during that span, or about 45 percent of his total donations.
However, unlike the other reporting periods for that election, there is no itemization of Womack’s donations or expenditures for the April 1 to May 10 span. Normally, a contributions/expenditure report is seven or eight pages long, listing each contributor’s name, mailing addresses, occupation and place of business, along with the amount given. For this reporting period, there’s only a cover sheet listing total contributions and total expenditures.
I’ve asked Womack’
s campaign if he’s aware that the document is incomplete, if he did indeed submit an itemized list for that month to the Secretary of State, and if he can provide a copy of the record. As with every question I’ve asked the Womack campaign, there has been no reply.
Chris Powell, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, said the electronic PDF versions of the records represent every campaign contribution document they have on file. That is, there aren’t additional paper records.
“Our folks will generally scan it in as it comes in,” he said. “I think we’ve had this issue come up before, where there was a report for someone else that was just one page.” The staff at the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t normally perform quality control checks to ensure that every filing is complete, he said, given the sheer volume of filings from hundreds of races every year. (Powell also noted that the 2008 filing would have occurred during a previous administration.)
Graham Sloan, director of the Arkansas Ethics Commission, confirmed that “candidates are required to file reports of contributions and expenditures. You have to itemize contributions over $50 and expenditures over $100.”
“If there’s an incomplete filing there, the question is whether that’s how it was submitted … if that’s all that was filed, there could be a problem with failing to provide required information.” But, he added, “it’s not uncommon or inconceivable that out of those thousands and thousands of filings, one gets lost or misplaced. … We always advise people to keep an extra copy. The best evidence is a duplicate copy of it, that’s stamped ‘filed.’”
“If your question is [whether] a candidate have a duty to replace a lost filing — the law doesn’t place any duty upon them,” he said. “It places a duty upon them to file it in the first place.” And the Ethics Commission is also unequipped to handle an audit or quality control measure to ensure contribution/expenditure reports are complete. “The Ethics Commission is the enforcement agency, and we have five people [on staff] … and tens of thousands of filings … . Outside of the complaint process, there’s not any auditing of the reports.”
Could a complaint be filed in this case? No, Sloan said, because a filing from 2008 is outside the four-year statute of limitations. That means the only person who potentially could fill in the blanks in this particular campaign finance record is Shawn Womack.
Womack faces Little Rock attorney Clark Mason in the judicial election on March 1.