PAC to pay $200 fine over mail­ers, ads

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - MICHAEL R. WICKLINE

Of­fi­cials for the Con­ser­va­tive Arkansas Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Com­mit­tee have agreed to pay a $200 fine and re­ceive a pub­lic let­ter of cau­tion from the Arkansas Ethics Com­mis­sion in a set­tle­ment of a com­plaint filed by a Farm­ing­ton man against the group.

Gra­ham Sloan, di­rec­tor of the Ethics Com­mis­sion, in­formed the five-mem­ber com­mis­sion on Fri­day about the set­tle­ment of the ethics com­plaint filed by Jeff Oland of Farm­ing­ton against Con­ser­va­tive Arkansas.

“We should have filed as an [in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture com­mit­tee] and not as a PAC,” said Con­ser­va­tive Arkansas Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Patsy Wooton of Spring­dale.

Arkansas Code An­no­tat- An

ed 7-6-201 de­fines a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee as one that re­ceives con­tri­bu­tions from at least one per­son in order to make con­tri­bu­tions to can­di­dates, bal­lot ques­tion com­mit­tees, leg­isla­tive ques­tion com­mit­tees, po­lit­i­cal par­ties, county po­lit­i­cal party com­mit­tees or other po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees.

The same statute says the funds spent by in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture com­mit­tees are not con­tri­bu­tions but are spent to ad­vo­cate the elec­tion or de­feat of a can­di­date. Also, the com­mit­tees do not work with a can­di­date in mak­ing its ex­pen­di­tures.

“It was our mis­take,” she said Fri­day. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.”

Wooton said she; the group’s trea­surer, Donna Bras­hears of Bella Vista; and the group’s ad­min­is­tra­tor, Jana Della Rosa of Rogers, split the cost of the $200 fine. Oland’s com­plaint also was filed against the group’s for­mer trea­surer, Edge Nowlin. Della Rosa is a Repub­li­can state rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Wooton said she be­lieves Oland filed the ethics com­plaint against Con­ser­va­tive Arkansas in Fe­bru­ary be­cause Della Rosa was be­ing chal­lenged by two Repub­li­can foes in the March 1 pri­mary. Della Rosa de­feated for­mer Rep. Randy Alexan­der, R-Rogers, and Spring­dale ed­u­ca­tor Jana Starr in the pri­mary elec­tion.

Oland couldn’t be reached for com­ment by email on Fri­day re­gard­ing the set­tle­ment. Della Rosa also couldn’t be reached by tele­phone.

Af­ter he filed the com­plaint in Fe­bru­ary, Oland said, “This group and par­tic­u­larly one of their of­fi­cers, state Rep. Jana Della Rosa, has re­cently lamented the ‘dark money’ in pol­i­tics. … Upon close re­view of their ac­tiv­ity, it ap­pears the Con­ser­va­tive Arkansas PAC is will­ing to serve as a slush fund or clear­ing­house for large un­re­ported con­tri­bu­tions to can­di­dates.”

In a let­ter dated June 13 to Della Rosa, Wooton, Bras­hears and Nowlin, Sloan said they’ve agreed in the set­tle­ment with the com­mis­sion find­ing that they un­in­ten­tion­ally vi­o­lated Arkansas Code An­no­tated 7-6-220 and 7-6-227 by fail­ing to reg­is­ter as an in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture com­mit­tee and dis­close con­tri­bu­tions it re­ceived and ex­pen­di­tures it made re­lated to be­ing that type of com­mit­tee.

Con­ser­va­tive Arkansas’ con­tri­bu­tions “po­ten­tially” in­cluded $7,500 from Michelle and Jim Bob Dug­gar, $5,000 from Arnold Hollingsworth, and $5,000 from Ran­dell Shel­ton, Sloan wrote in his let­ter.

The po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee’s in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­tures in­cluded:

— Cu­mu­la­tive amounts of $4,250.79 paid to Tar­get Di­rect on or about May 18, 2012, in con­nec­tion with send­ing a mailer in sup­port of Spring­dale Repub­li­can Jon Woods’ suc­cess­ful state Se­nate cam­paign.

— $4,941 paid to Di­a­mond State Con­sult­ing on or about Sept. 30, 2014, for ra­dio ad­ver­tis­ing in the Se­nate race be­tween then-Rep. John Bur­ris, R-Har­ri­son, and cur­rent Sen. Scott Flippo, R-Moun­tain Home.

— $6,830 paid to Di­a­mond State Con­sult­ing and Zim Cre­ative on or about Nov. 3, 2014, to pay for mail­ers ad­vo­cat­ing against can­di­dates for var­i­ous Fayet­teville al­der­man po­si­tions, in­clud­ing in Joshua Craw­ford’s race and Paul Pha­neuf’s race, ac­cord­ing to Sloan’s let­ter.

“Ev­i­dence gath­ered dur­ing the course of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­flected that the of­fi­cers of Con­ser­va­tive Arkansas … at the rel­e­vant times were un­aware [of] the laws gov­ern­ing In­de­pen­dent Ex­pen­di­tures and [in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture com­mit­tees] in Arkansas, in­clud­ing com­mit­tee reg­is­tra­tion and re­port­ing re­quire­ments,” Sloan said in his let­ter.

“The ev­i­dence re­flected that the ex­pen­di­tures in ques­tion were not con­tri­bu­tions to can­di­dates be­cause there was no co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the cam­paigns and the can­di­dates,” Sloan wrote.

“The ev­i­dence gath­ered fur­ther in­di­cated that the of­fi­cers mis­tak­enly be­lieved that the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion was the gov­ern­ing agency for their PAC ac­tiv­ity and that they called the FEC sev­eral times for guid­ance and re­ceived in­cor­rect ad­vice,” ac­cord­ing to Sloan’s let­ter.

“There was no ev­i­dence that [Con­ser­va­tive Arkansas] in­ten­tion­ally failed to reg­is­ter and re­port as an [in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture com­mit­tee],” Sloan said.

“Fur­ther­more, there was no ev­i­dence gath­ered that showed the of­fi­cers of [Con­ser­va­tive Arkansas] at the rel­e­vant times failed to re­port ex­pen­di­tures, but that they were re­ported in the in­cor­rect man­ner and on be­half of the in­cor­rect le­gal en­tity,” Sloan’s let­ter said.

Oland also filed ethics com­plaints against Woods and Bur­ris. Sloan said the com­mis­sion dis­missed those com­plaints last month.

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