Again: Evidence that the so-called “ethics amendment” did little to stop the flow of corporate money to candidates for legislature.
The Democrat-Gazette recently described the race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Bobby Pierce and a staffer and clone of Sen. Tom Cotton, Republican Trent Garner, for state Senate.
I was drawn to the $9,500 that Garner reported in contributions from what is effectively a single source — four of seven political action committees set up and run by Bruce Hawkins, a former legislator and lobbyist.
Yes. Multiple PAC formation is apparently legal — as Gilbert Baker and Michael Morton divined in the multiple PACs that were established to funnel money to then-Judge Mike Maggio. Maggio said in federal court it was a bribery scheme to get him to reduce a jury verdict against a nursing home owned by Morton, but has since tried to take that back. Only Maggio has been charged.
Corporations may not give direct political contributions. But they may give $5,000 to a PAC for each election. A PAC may then give up to $2,700 to a candidate in each election. Can the same person fund multiple PACs that give maximum contributions to the same candidate? Apparently so. How does this make any sense? It doesn’t. The law needs to be fixed to end such PAC abuse. Otherwise, any notion of a campaign contribution limit is utter fiction.
Garner’s contributions came from Hawkins’ DBH Management Consultants PAC and DBH PACs 2,3, 4 and 6. Just to give you a flavor of the log-rolling:
Hawkins’ management consulting PAC took in $15,000 from three separate Hawkins businesses — his lobbying firm, a Morrilton insurance agency and a company that handles benefits for state employees in Little Rock. (Small potatoes compared with the 70 or so corporate shields by which Michael Morton can give money.) It also got $5,000 from Southland Gaming. Southland also pitched in $5,000 to each of PACs 3, 4, 5 and 6. Other go-to sources for Hawkins’ multiple PACs were Hog Wild Wines and Spirits of Cabot, Rockport Refreshment of Little Rock and two Shelter Insurance PACs from Missouri. Together, then, a handful of friends, Hawkins’ personal companies and lobbying clients gave Hawkins a big pot of money to pass around to lucky legislative candidates.
Trent Ganer wasn’t the only beneficiary of Hawkins’ PACs. Most were Republican (of course, the majority party) and concentrated in the Senate, where a handful of votes on the right committees can be immensely valuable. But they include among the PACs at least three $2,500 contributions to incumbent Democratic Sen. David Burnett.
Pierce had a rich lineup of PAC contributions, it should be noted, but not multiple PACs from the same originating point.
It’s cumbersome, but the reports are on-line for searching here.
The PAC abuse should be fixed. It would be simple. End corporate contributions to PACs. And place an individual limit on PAC contributions. I think some legislation along those lines will be offered from the Democratic side. You can guess what chance of success it has.