And it keeps on coming. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a 527 advocacy group devoted to electing Republicans in down-ballot races, has a new ad backing David Sterling in his race for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court against incumbent Justice Courtney Goodson. Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson is also running to replace Goodson. The initial ad buy of $200,000 continues on an initiative launched by the group in 2014 to influence the judiciary in a right-wing direction.

The group also successfully backed Shawn Womack in his race for Arkansas Supreme Court in 2016, with a series of ham-fisted attacks on his opponent, Clark Mason. Critics have noted that a group with “Republican” in the title might give a misleading impression to voters in what is supposedly a non-partisan race. The latest ad seems to be a prime example of precisely that strategy (if you weren’t paying attention to this race, wouldn’t you assume Sterling was a Republican running against a Democrat?).

The ad is a sad mashup of half-thoughts from the grievance-addled id of the right-wing echo chamber. It’s less red meat than Sloppy Joe. There’s “fake news,” CNN, Rachel Maddow, Nancy Pelosi. Sterling is a “family man” and “NRA member” who will stand up to elites. Anderson Cooper even makes an appearance! The issues that really matter in a nonpartisan state judicial election.

This is “express advocacy” so there are some reporting requirements — unlike the massive loophole for “dark money” groups. Dark money groups create what look to normal humans like political ads but keep just inside the boundaries of what is instead considered “issue advocacy” under the law to dodge transparency requirements. Such groups, like the Judicial Crisis Network, are also playing in this race backing Sterling. Nothing has been filed yet on the Secretary of State’s site about this independent expenditure from RSLC.

Advertisement

Under the law, an independent expenditure like RSLC’s that expressly advocates for a candidate cannot coordinate with that candidate (Sterling, naturally, says he doesn’t know about the ad). Otherwise it would be a campaign contribution subject to the $2,000 limit. Worth noting that if it’s issue speech (looks like an ad but artfully avoids magic words like “vote for”), there is no limit whatsoever on coordination in state law, according to the Ethics Commission decision on a 2014 Leslie Rutledge ad (she herself appeared in an ad that any normal voter would view as a political ad). But it’s almost not worth getting into the weeds of the various legal technicalities. That Ethics decision on the Rutledge ad clarified what many have suspected for a while: Anything goes.