Monday, April 16, 2012

The secret battle against the severance tax

Posted By on Mon, Apr 16, 2012 at 7:24 AM

Stephens Media today reports that it can't find any prominent politicians in support of the proposal to raise the gas severance tax in Arkansas. Surprise. It's an election year. The money flows from the corporate interests, beginning with gas companies but including the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. They are fighting a tax sufficient to pay for the damage exploration is doing to state roads and environment.

Noted: The committee opposing the tax has already raised more than $813,000 (mostly from gas drillers, but including some token contributions from the royalty owners who've hit a goldmine with the Fayetteville shale play and apparently can't afford to pay a minuscule increase from their no-cost windfall to the state for loss of the resource) and spent more than $600,000. The Stephens empire and Southwestern energy have put in $400,000 each.

How have they spent the $600,000?

Thanks for asking.

It's another one of those campaigns in which the corporate lobbyists spit on public accountability. Their reports show they don't believe they have to follow spending disclosure practices that apply to political candidates. Here's the most recent report

You'll see the campaign accounted for more than $200,000 in spending in essentially five checks — nearly all for two things — an "education campaign" and "campaign management." The latter was a check to the Markham Group, which was the washing machine through which the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce laundered its spending on the Little Rock sales tax campaign and thus avoided disclosing how any of the money was spent specifically. The Ethics Commission signed off reluctantly on this practice in response to my complaint. The staff found an ethics violation, but the commission itself said its hands were tied by poor drafting of the statute and members said they hoped to correct it in 2013. Meanwhile, you'll see no do-right behavior from the fat cats with voluntary specific disclosure. They love their secrecy.

The Markham Group laughably said during the Ethics Commission's hearing that its spending on radio stations, mailers and other nuts and bolts of campaign spending amounted to "proprietary information." Be sure that the same fat cats in charge of this campaign will fight tooth and nail to preserve secret political campaigns in the 2012 legislature.

Rep. Dorothy Jane English, a Republican, has said she'd fix this little charade if elected to the Senate. I wonder, given the tactic's use in the corporate and politically popular severance tax fight, if she'll stick with that promise?

PS — In case you missed it, here's Ernest Dumas' column about how Sheffield Nelson is right in pushing for the tax increase and the corporate lobbyists aren't telling you the truth.

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