A three-way Republican primary for the state Senate seat held by the late Greg Standridge holds a bit more interest than normal because the winner, if successful against Democrat Teresa Gallegos, could be a critical vote in amassing the supermajority necessary to continue the Medicaid expansion enabled by Obamacare, now called Arkansas Works.

Standridge supported Gov. Asas Hutchinson’s Arkansas Works program. In the Republican primary, Breanne Davis and Luke Heffley have signaled at least some support for the program while Bob Bailey is adamantly opposed. 

Bailey, 59, owns a firearms company (silencers are among his popular products). He told the Democrat-Gazette:  “If you love the constitution and are tired of the same old status quo that is running this country into the ground, then vote for me. If you love socialism, the one world government or Republicans that vote like Democrats, then you want to vote for someone else.”

Which brings us to PAC cloning and a long-time singular contributor to the cause of defeating the Medicaid expansion, the ultraconservative Conduit for Action and its co-founders Joe Maynard and lawyer Brenda Vassaur Taylor of Fayetteville.

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In his first financial report, Bailey reported raising about $25,000. $20,000 of that came from political action Committees. All the PACs have the same postoffice box address in Fayetteville and, to the extent records on-line identify them, the same agent, Brenda Vassaur Taylor.

Bailey got the maximum $2,700 from Commerce in Action, $1,100 from Commerce in Action 2 and $2,700 from Arkansas I Structure, Arkansas Business Services, Arkansas Manufacturing First, Arkansas Natural Resources, Arkansas People First and Arkansas Trade First. Again, all have the same PO Box, which is the PO box for Taylor’s law firm.

On-line records for 2018 are not available for any of these PACs. But 2017 records give you an idea of their funding: Commerce in Action, Commerce in Action 2 and AR-I-Structure are almost wholly funded by three people. Each reported a total of $10,000, or $3,333 each, from James Maynard, John Maynard and Kristin Davis. Joe Maynard, a successfull manufacturer, has three children including one named James, according to an on-line biography. Taylor hasn’t returned my call for more information about the PACs and its contributors.

Lax PAC rules are ripe for exploitation.

The voters approved a constitutional amendment nominally intended to tighten ethics laws, by prohibiting corporate contributions direct to campaigns. But there’s nothing to prohibit corporate contributions up to $5,000 to PACs. And there’s no law that specifically prohibits establishing multiple PACs founded by the same person or persons.

An individual or PAC may give no more than $2,700 to an election campaign, in both primary and general election. But an individual, and also a corporation, may give $5,000 to a PAC, or as many PACs as they want.

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Some efforts to change this legislatively have gone nowhere.

You may remember that nursing home owner Michael Morton of Fort Smith, working in league with former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker, created multiple PACs to multiply contributions, through various corporate identifies, to favored judicial candidates, particularly Michael Maggio. Maggio is now serving a federal sentence for saying he viewed those contributions as bribes to get him to reduce a nursing home verdict. Morton wasn’t charged and has denied wrongdoing. Legislative lobbyist Bruce Hawkins created seven PACs to multiply influence in the last election cycle. Coincidentally, Hawkins and a nursing home partner of Morton, David Norsworthy, have been identified as suppliers of cash transfers to Republican Sen. Jake Files when his construction business was imploding. Norsworthy hasn’t answered questions about his $80,000 transfer shortly after the legislature reported out an amendment to make it harder to sue nursing homes. Hawkins has just said he was helping a friend who had some hot check problems.

In 1991, the state Ethics Commission was asked about using multiple PACs to contribute to the same candidate. It said that the plain language of the law didn’t prohibit this. But it said, a combination of other laws could be read as an impediment:

This commission then is faced with two dilemmas: (1) to attempt to interpret the existing law so that it makes sense, and is fair to all contributors, (2) to interpret only the law which exists, without legislating into the law that which we may wish that it said. We recognize that we are not authorized to legislate, though the solutions to our sparse statutes are fairly simple and widely used.[1]

In the absence of any language written into the law to reconcile these sets of statutes, or precedent which guides this Commission, we are of the opinion that the plain language of our statutes does not prohibit an individual from contributing the limit of one thousand dollars ($1000) [now $2,700] to a candidate for public office, and also contributing to Political Action Committees which may, eventually, also make contributions to the same candidate.

At the same time, we believe we would not do the people and the legislature of Arkansas justice if we do not interpret ACA §§ 7-6-205(a) so as to restrict or prohibit the practice of making contributions to committees such as single-candidate PACs, for the sole purpose of exceeding the individual contribution limit. Therefore, we are of the opinion, and will view as violations of law, any practice or scheme which involves contributing to numerous PACs by an individual or group of individuals, if the practice or scheme evidences an intent to make contributions indirectly to a candidate which violates the campaign contribution limit set out in the law. This involves an investigation of the facts of each such instance which may be brought to this Commission’s attention. While such a factual conclusion, in the broad sense, may be tenuous, we will vigorously pursue such practices when the facts convince us that an individual or group is intentionally circumventing the law.

Graham Sloan, the director of the Ethics Commission today, was not there when Jack Kearney wrote this opinion. He said, however, there’s been no change in Commission policy since, nor any cases to test a complaint that multiple PAC contributions were used to evade individual campaign limits.

A legislative solution would be ideal, including a law like that in other states that prohibits use of related corporate structures to evade individual campaign finance limits. Michael Morton makes contributions in the name of multiple nursing homes to do this.  Perhaps a complaint about stacking PAC contributions from the same sources to the same candidate is ripe for a look.