Speaking of Jan Morgan, I meant to mention on Friday that she and Rep. Dan Sullivan were slapped with an ethics complaint for talk of collecting off-the-books campaign money at a recent rally. From a report in the D-G:
Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Jan Morgan and state Rep. Dan Sullivan were accused this week in an ethics complaint of trying to “skirt” campaign finance laws at an event in Jonesboro earlier this month.
Morgan and Sullivan, both Republicans, denied any wrongdoing on Thursday, saying the complaint was an attempt to stifle free speech and grassroots support.
Sullivan of Jonesboro told a group gathered April 7 to hear Morgan speak at a northeast Arkansas motorcycle dealership that he’d collect money and contact information from anyone interested in helping fund a billboard promoting Morgan’s candidacy, according to a video of the event posted to NEA Report’s Facebook group.
Sullivan jokes in the video that Morgan should cover her ears, so the fundraising efforts would be “independent” of the campaign.
Sullivan said he never actually collected money for a billboard. Perhaps he was kidding. The report notes that an ASU student and some buddies had bought a pro-Morgan billboard prior to the rally but doesn’t indicate whether this was disclosed as campaign spending or hidden under the various convenient fictions available for keeping campaign finance in the dark. If Morgan’s patron saint, Donald Trump, is any guide, sometimes the outsiders promising to battle the swamp have a bit of the swampy stench themselves.
While anti-establishment outsiders might be more likely to be clumsy or amateurish enough to actually get caught, it’s worth noting that mainstream candidates have a fully legal version of the scam that Sullivan and Morgan are accused of running.
There is nothing stopping a candidate from raising funds for an outside group, which then turns around and make an expenditure in favor of the candidate. Furthermore, if that outside group avoids certain magic words (like “vote for”), it can pass off its electioneering as “education” and is under no obligation to disclose where the money came from.
Consider the cozy relationship between Tom Cotton and Americans for Prosperity. In 2014, Cotton, then a candidate for U.S. Senate, and the advocacy group Americans for Prosperity both appeared at a donor gathering in 2014 sponsored by Charles and David Koch. Cotton told the donors: “Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state …building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state involved in their communities.” Meanwhile, then AFP president Tim Phillips told the donors that Tom Cotton “is a champion.” AFP then spent millions in “issue speech” (advertisements and mailers that would appear to the average voter to be campaign ads) targeting the Arkansas Senate race, benefitting Cotton.
Neat trick! Because the Cotton campaign was careful to color within the law’s lines, there was no ethics complaint filed, but such shenanigans have a stench worse than Sullivan’s dopey remarks.