The so-called 2014 ethics amendment brought Arkansas longer terms for the legislature, a tripling of pay for the same bunch and a loosening of ethics rules so that free swill for lawmakers continues in fewer but more lavish soirees. But, defenders protest, didn’t it at least outlaw corporate contributions to candidates?
Yes and no. Thanks to the amendment, corporations may not make direct contributions to candidates. Their executives still may, of course, nominally from personal funds. But nothing was done about PAC money. It remains a sewer that keeps corporate cash flowing.
I’m reminded of this by a news release this morning from Ben Gilmore, one of two (and there are only two) state-paid employees of Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin running for the legislature this year. Gilmore is opposing incumbent Democratic Sen. Eddie Cheatham of Crossett.
Gilmore issued a news release bragging on $57,000 in contributions this quarter. He said 68 percent of the contributors were from the district. The news release didn’t include the campaign filing itself. If it had, you could readily see another way to look at the numbers. He got $17,800, or nearly a third of his haul, from four sources — a family member and three Little Rock PACs.
He was able to count $5,600 from a family member, Phillip Gilmore. He got $5,600 from the Jobs and Growth PAC, a business and lobbyist PAC, and $5,600 from the Republican State Leadership Committee Arkansas PAC, wholly funded by the opaque national Republican State Leadership Committee. He also got $1,000 from the Gilmore Strategy Group PAC, funded mostly by his brother’s lobby company but also by $5,000 from LaSalle Corrections, which is hoping to land a private prison contract down in the Senate district Gilmore hopes to win.
It’s instructive to look at the Jobs and Growth PAC to see how big money can find multiple ways to reach the same pocket. Lobbyist Bob Brooks put $5,000 in the PAC. He also put $1,000 directly into Gilmore’s campaign. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a direct contributor to Gilmore, also put $5,000 in the Jobs and Growth PAC. Bad Boy mowers in Batesville kicked in $1,000 to the Jobs and Growth PAC. One of its officers, Scott Lancaster, gave $1,000 directly to Gilmore.
David Ray is the other Tim Griffin staffer running for the legislature, the House seat held by retiring Rep. Doug House. His first quarterly report isn’t on file yet, but I expect we’ll see some similarities in financing. The Jobs and Growth PAC, for example, has given him $5,600. And wouldn’t you know it? He’s also gotten $5,600 from the shadowy Republican State Leadership PAC.
Jon Woods, the primary architect of the multi-faceted “ethics” amendment, can behold the resulting good works from his federal prison cell in Texas.
PS: The Gilmore name carries some clout these days because the strategy group is headed by Ben’s brother, Jon, a former high-level staffer, campaign strategist and money raiser for Gov. Asa Hutchinson. If you can’t give money to Asa currently, giving money to candidates backed by a firm that employs at least three of his former staffers might be viewed as the next best thing.