A complaint has been filed with the state Ethics Commission against political activities of the Pope County Majority, an advocate of casino development in Pope County.
Multiple sources are distributing copies of a letter confirming the commission will investigate a complaint (its filer isn’t identified in the letter being circulated) that the group and its leader Kelly Jett have been operating as a PAC or independent ballot question committee in supporting candidates for Quorum Court and a bond issue election that would designate how future casino revenue would be used.
Here’s the restatement of the complaint that’s being investigated.
Jett as yet hasn’t responded to my request for a response to the complaint. They have raised money for their “awareness” activities, as illustrated by an appeal on gofundme.
Pope County Majority is a group dedicated to community awareness. We are in favor of a casino/resort and other progressive establishments for the growth and development of Pope County. Donations will go towards raising awareness through media and other promotions along with the necessary funding of the groups operations.
UPDATE: Little Rock lawyer Chris Burks provided a prepared statement on behalf of Jett:
Exactly like neighborhood associations and civic organizations, Pope County Majority is an unincorporated association from and for the community. It does not donate to candidates, nor was it formed for a particular local election.
Instead, it is made up of caring volunteers who talk about issues. We’re glad that neighborhood associations and community groups like ours are not Political Action Committees in Arkansas and can engage in issue speech, because we don’t want Washington D.C.-style politics of personal attacks in our areas. What’s next—outlawing pancake suppers, fish fries and barbecues because politics is getting discussed? We’re glad Arkansas has sensible laws that we are proud to follow.”
In response to a question, Burks confirmed that Jett had paid for and put up a political sign that was “mislabeled” as being from Pope County Majority. But he said the expenditure was below the level at which filing as an independent committee would be required. He said he believed ethics rules were being followed.
I’ll pass restating all the ins and outs of the snakepit that is Pope County politics as a result of the casino question.
But I will say this: The Arkansas Ethics Commission is a toothless wonder with potential penalties so small (and don’t forget the legislature-adopted mulligan rule that allows correction of law violations without penalty) as to be meaningless. It has become common political practice to wage battles by leaking complaints such as this one knowing full well they are unlikely to be decided before an election in the first place even if they happen to be legitimate.
Sometimes these complaints are legitimate, sometimes not. A previous complaint against Quorum Court members who supported the casino (and who are enjoying Pope County Majority backing) was held to be without merit.
Not that an Ethics Commission finding is necessarily definitive.
Remember the Ethics Commission review that cleared then-Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson of a complaint he’d spent campaign money on himself and his then-girlfriend? He has since pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge of doing exactly that.
And speaking of unethical political activities and the failure to police them: Behold the wildly unethical partisan campaign for Arkansas Supreme Court by Barbara Webb. It seems to be getting no attention from judicial ethics watchdogs. Judicial candidates are supposed, according to ethics rules, to avoid partisan entanglements given that the job is non-partisan. Webb, wife of Republican state chair Doyle Webb, has gladly accepted money from multiple Republican sources and is touting endorsements from the Republican governor in her advertising. Other Republicans have also announced endorsements and a dark-money Republican group is spending heavily to defeat her opponent, experienced Circuit Judge Chip Welch, with no objection from her. If any ethics arbiter ever gets around to reviewing this issue, it will be long after the March 3 election. And let us acknowledge that there are many who think I HELP Webb by mentioning her Republican connections in what is now a blood-red state politically.
Also worth more examination later is the spending by a group now petitioning to put on the ballot a measure allowing some out-of-state investors to take control of putting thousands of gambling machines in convenience stores and truck stops all over Arkansas. The money spent so far seems to be going heavily to a political consultant and there haven’t been breakdowns of how that consultant is spending the money if it’s not all going into his pocket. He has, so far, not responded to my questions about compliance with a law passed as a result of my past ethical complaint about a lack of transparency on political consultant spending working for the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. Perhaps we’ll go down that road again in this case, though history doesn’t argue for a happy outcome.
Would an adverse ethical finding matter anyway? Arkansas voters seem prepared to vote to re-elect a national symbol of dishonest, immoral, self-enriching and perhaps even criminal behavior. What’s a little ethics disregard among friends?