As I just mentioned, I’ve been following dark money spending in the race for state Senate, in which former senator Bryan King ousted incumbent Sen. Bob Ballinger in the Republican primary.

A final report on runoff spending was filed Friday, so I’m able to close the circle today.

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I wrote before about mailers bashing King that began appearing during the runoff. I noted that the mailers were paid by an independent expenditure committee formed by lobbyist/consultant Rett Hatcher.

Strictly speaking, those who form independent committees will argue, they are not always dark money groups. The law requires reports on the amount of money raised and how it is spent. I still call it dark money because few recipients of the mailers have the know-how to look up available information about the mailers or how to navigate the secretary of state’s hinky disclosure website (read on). These committees often are formed close to elections, with final spending unknown until after the election is over. And sometimes, the committees are wholly funded by federal PACs that are even more opaque.

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At the time I first checked Hatcher’s Committee for Lower Taxes I said there had been no disclosure about finances. I was wrong, because the secretary of state’s office files reports submitted on paper in a different category than on-line filings.

The committee was formed April 26. On May 13, 11 days before the primary, the committee reported raising $5,508 — $2,500 from the Arkansas Trucking Association; $508 from Hatcher’s Capitol Consulting firm, and $2,500 from the Capitol Advisors Group (including Republicans Bill Vickery, John Burris and Mitchell Lowe). This last bunch often dabbles in opaque independent campaigns, at levels from county offices on up.

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On June 13, a little more than a week before the runoff, the Hatcher committee reported an additional $2,000 from the Vickery/Burris lobbying firm. That brought total contributions to about $7,500, but much would come that wouldn’t be revealed until after the election was over.

The final report, including contributions and spending on the runoff was filed July 8. It showed additional contributions of $16,778.

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The late money was led by $5,000 from the Vickery-Burris lobbying firm. Other contributors: K12 Management of Herndon, Va., an online charter school operator, $1,000; $1,000 from the Arkansas Trucking Association; $1,500 each from Shannon Fleming and John Montgomery, who work for the nursing home lobby; $2,500 from tobacco giant RAI Services; $1,000 from lawyer Bud Cummins’ PAC; $1,000 from Rausch Coleman Homebuilders of Fayetteville, and $2,278 more from Hatcher’s firm.

I gather that Hatcher’s interest in opposing King stems from lingering tension from Hatcher’s support for another candidate, Bill Coleman, in King’s first successful run for office in 2012. Ballinger defeated King’s re-election bid four years ago.

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Hatcher isn’t likely to join the King camp now, as some political pragmatists might. But he also won’t be supporting Democrat Jim Wallace against King, either. Republicans just don’t do that. Not even if the opponent is Bryan King.

Ballinger’s campaign outraised King, on the strength of tens of thousands in contributions from big business PACs. King loaned his campaign more than $120,000  to make the race.

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Note that the $2,900 individual campaign contribution is easily sidestepped. Example:  Nursing home magnate Michael Morton gave Ballinger $2,900. He’s also a contributor to the nursing home PAC that weighed in for the runoff. The truckers PAC gave individually as well as to the independent committee. Hatcher’s PAC and Capitol Advisors also contributed to Ballinger individually as well as to the independent committee. Shelter Insurance had multiple PACs giving to Ballinger (all wholly funded by Shelter Insurance) and lobbyist Bruce Hawkins gave to Ballinger from four PACs as well as individually (Hawkins draws much of his PAC support from a Shelter Mutual executive for still more log rolling).

This is smelly business. You can see, for starters, how the supposed end of corporate contributions to campaigns has been easily circumvented.

Give Hatcher credit for disclosure of sources of money for his independent committee. True dark money is embodied by the Truth in Politics 2 PAC operated by ultra-conservative Joe Maynard and Brenda Vassaur Taylor of Fayetteville. They used smearing mailers for a number of candidates, including the erstwhile white-robed Sen. Charles Beckham.

Truth in Politics 2 raised $118,000, all contributed by Conduit for Action, a 501c4 nonprofit corporation that doesn’t disclose its contributors. Joe Maynard’s leadership of both Conduit and the committee and a recent tax filing for Conduit both indicate there might be a singular source for the organization’s money. Here are its contributions in support of or opposition  to candidates in this primary and runoff:

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Charles Beckham – SD 3 $3,153.32

Josh Bryant – SD32 $4,658.91

Gayla Mckenzie – SD 35  $6,094

Clint Penzo – SD 31  $4,496

Anti-Tyler Dees – SD35 $12,200

Charles Beckham – SD 3 $5,184

Josh Bryant – SD 32 $6,695

Gayla Mckenzie – SD 35 $8,912

Clint Penzo – SD 31 $6,373

Anti-Andrew Thompson – SD31 $10,600

Common Ground AR – SD31, SD32, SD35 $2,900

These are significant sums in state legislative races. As a Democrat-Gazette article today on this committee reported, Bryant and Penzo won primaries while McKenzie and Beckham lost.  The two singled out for opposition, Thompson and Dees, lost to Penzo.

 

 

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