The Republican dark money pouring into the nominally nonpartisan race for Arkansas Supreme Court has finally revealed itself.
Earlier today, the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative filed its 35-day pre-election report on 2020 campaign involvement. It was due Feb. 3 and filed today, Feb. 24. It reported no expenditures.
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When I inquired about the timing of the filing and lack of detail — given that spending has been underway for some time on YouTube, radio and mail ads in support of Barbara Webb, wife of Arkansas Republican Party chair Doyle Webb, I got this prepared response:
It’s my understanding that you have a question about the Judicial Fairness Initiative and our expenditure filing in Arkansas. Feel free to attribute this quote to me as a spokesperson for the RSLC: “The Republican State Leadership Committee filed in accordance with our obligation once we made the decision to engage, and will continue to do so moving forward.”
Republican State Leadership Committee
I had also asked about the 10-day pre-election report. Williams made no mention of it, but a check back with the secretary of state later in the afternoon revealed that report HAD been filed today., the day it was due.
It shows three contributions to the committee totaling $225,000, all from the Republican State Leadership Committee. I call that dark money if you think Arkansas voters should know where it’s coming from. The RSLC contends this isn’t dark money because the source PAC discloses its contributors on the federal level at periodically, but there’s no way in that information to identify whether individual contributors have earmarked specific races.
Here’s how it’s being spent:
That’s a hefty sum. But it is likely not the last of the spending. We won’t know a final amount until after the election. When the final tab came in on this group’s spending against Justice Courtney Hudson in 2018, the tab came to $2.6 million. A campaign consultant for Welch predicts as much as $1 million will be spent.
We’ve previously linked YouTube versions of the RSCL work for Webb. She’s the antidote, the ads say, because “an out of control left threatens to break down the rule of law.” She’s a conservative, the ad touts.
Rule of law? That’s rich, given that Webb is flouting the Code of Judicial Conduct. Canon 4 prohibits campaign activity inconsistent with impartiality and says specifically a candidate must not “seek, accept, or use endorsements from a political organization or an elected official who was elected in a partisan election.”
Womack’s ads bear effective endorsements from the current Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee. She might argue these aren’t technically endorsements, merely nice things said about her in the past by people who happen to have been elected Republicans But I don’t know what else you’d call contributions to her campaign from Republican county committees.
She reported almost $2,000 in in-kind spending by Crawford and Sebastian County Republican groups on billboard advertising. She also took in cash: $1,000 from the North Pulaski Republican Women, $500 from Sebastian Republican Women, $500 from the Pulaski Republican Committee, $2,000 from the Asa PAC, $1,000 from the Clark County Republican Committee, $200 from the Columbia County Committee, $1,000 from the Union County Committee, $1,000 from John Boozman’s Arkansas Values PAC, $300 from the White County Republican Committee, $500 from the Arkansas Federation of Republican Women, $2,800 from the Baxter County Republican Committee and a host of contributions from Republican officeholders and people who hold state patronage jobs in the Hutchinson administration. Corporate PACs that give most of their money to Republicans are also well-represented.
Pointing out the unethical partisan posture of this campaign (it’s also hypocritical given hubby Doyle Webb’s support as a senator for an end to partisan judicial races) is that Webb WANTS people to know she’ll be a Republican judge. It’s presumed an automatic vote in Arkansas now.
But she also has a comeback for any who might be bothered. Her opponent, Judge Chip Welch, gave a political contribution to Barack Obama 12 years (not eight as I originally wrote) ago. Indeed. And he was not a judge then. And he’s never made a political contribution in the seven years he’s been a judge. But there’s no greater catnip for Arkansas voters than injecting the image of the swarthy Kenyan into an election campaign — Republicans have been using it for races for JP up since 2008.
A good measure of Welch’s fairness as a judge is that the RSLC hasn’t been able yet to come up with a negative hit on Welch for ad purposes. Other than the fact that he is a lawyer. As, of course, are Webb and Webb.
Webb also made the slanderous suggestion in a TV interview Sunday that Welch had been trying to buy a federal judgeship with his puny contribution to a multi-million-dollar presidential campaign. He didn’t get the appointment, by the way (thanks in part to stout opposition from a local Republican law firm). Welch, you see, has been a trial lawyer, representing injured people in court. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and other corporate lobbyists are backing Webb in hopes she’ll limit access to the courts for such cases.
If you want to imply darkly about paying to play, Barbara Webb gave $1,000 to Asa Hutchinson’s campaign treasury barely a month before he appointed her to a judicial vacancy in Saline County in December 2017.
Speaking still of ethics: Her husband Doyle later tried unsuccessfully to get state law changed so she could use a title from that temporary appointment on the ballot this year.
And still more on judicial ethics: While sitting as a circuit judge, Webb made a $500 contribution to the Republican National Committee (a contribution, incidentally that listed her occupation as an employee of the Workers Compensation Commission.)
And still one more thing about the law and Barbara Webb. She did such a fine job as a prosecutor in Saline County that a known Democrat, Robert Herzfeld, defeated her for re-election.
But her standard spiel is that she cleaned up corruption in Saline County. She told the White County Bar Association recently that she’d done such a great job prosecuting drug dealers that Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley had called her and said she needed to “slow down, you’re sending all the drug dealers to Pulaski County.”
I asked Jegley today about the comment:
“I never said anything to her. I don’t get up in other prosecutors’ business. I don’t track where these guys come from. I have never asked another prosecuting attorney to slow down on anything.”
If Webb was being jocular, as her tone indicated in the clip I saw, Jegley said: “It doesn’t need to be joked about. What we do is too serious.”
I’m seeking a response from Webb about the Jegley remark and her record of campaign contributions.
UPDATE: Add this note of further suspicion about dirty-dealing Republicans. As I drove home today I heard a radio ad talking about Nancy Pelosi disrespecting the president and urging people to vote in the Republican primary election. The ad was paid for by the Republican Party of Arkansas. Donald Trump is a walkover in the presidential primary. There are but a handful of local contested GOP races. Why would the Arkansas Republican Party (Doyle Webb, prop.) be hoping to boost the turnout in the Republican primary? Best guess wins a metophorical bobblehead doll named Barbara.