With a host of chamber of commerce supporters in the audience, the Little Rock City Board Tuesday night approved a $300,000 taxpayer handout to subsidize salaries at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce for another year. But it took a rare vote of the mayor to get it done.

Russ Racop, a candidate for Board against Doris Wright, spoke against the payment. He raised several of my long-standing criticisms: 1) There is no meaningful or specific accountability of spending beyond a pro forma balance sheet; 2) there’s no evidence the expenditure brings development the city wouldn’t otherwise get, 3) but, most of all, the money pays for salaries of people who lobby against what many perceive the public interest (for public school takeover, for freeway destruction of neighobrhoods, against fair workers compensation, against damage lawsuits, against unions, against universal health care). I don’t mind businesses paying for this lobbying, but I don’t much like my tax money being used for it.

It took a rare vote from Mayor Mark Stodola, long a chamber ally, to get approval of the ordinance. Director Kathy Webb voted no. Directors Erma Hendrix and Ken Richardson voted present, same as a no. Directors Dean Kumpuris and B.J. Wyrick were absent. So it took Stodola’s vote, with Lance Hines, Gene Fortson, Doris Wright, Joan Adcock and Capi Peck to keep the payola rolling to the Chamber of Commerce to work against common folks.

This handout was ruled unconstitutional in a taxpayer lawsuit. But that lawsuit became moot when the legislature promoted, and voters passed, a constitutional amendment legalizing local taxpayer handouts to chambers of commerce and other economic development agencies. The practice had become epidemic around the state. Members of chambers found it far more agreeable to pay for their organizations with pennies from sales taxes on groceries, blue jeans and hamburgers than assessing themselves.


Russ Racop recounts events on his blog.
It’s worth a read because it shows the big pile of nothing that was produced when Blue Hog Report attempted to get information about this corportate welfare handout through an FOI request.