Friday, January 25, 2013

Ethics Commission fines state representative Lowery

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 7:45 AM

The state Ethics Commission has settled a complaint over state House candidate Mark Lowery's failure to file campaign finance reports in a timely manner with an agreed letter of caution and $150 fine.

SCOFFLAW: Rep. Mark Lowery pays $150 for multiple campaign violations.
  • SCOFFLAW: Rep. Mark Lowery pays $150 for multiple campaign violations.
Here's the outcome of the case.

Lowery failed to file a final report for his primary campaign and three monthly reports during the critical period of the general election campaign. This denied the public any knowledge of who was paying for his campaign. Reports eventually filed showed he was almost entirely financed by corporate interests. He also benefitted from one of those "ticketed event" scams in which other Republican legislators wrote him checks from campaign funds, generally prohibited by law, under the guise that they were attending a political event that might benefit their campaigns. Might not have made a difference had voters known this. It might have. He won a hard-fought race for the Maumelle seat against Kelly Halstead.

FOR EXAMPLE: Check out the special interest money that paid off his campaign debt, in a report filed just this week.

Still: a $150 slap on the wrist for a corporate toady for intentional disregard of campaign finance laws for a period of four months in the heat of a campaign? Why should anybody obey the law if this is the consequence?

David Trussell, who filed the complaint, comments:

I received the attached public disposition from the Arkansas Ethics Commission regarding my complaint against Representative Mark Lowery for his late filings of four Campaign Contribution and Expense Reports. As you can see from the letter, Mr. Lowery admitted his transgressions and paid the whopping sum of $150.00, which he should have no trouble paying with the Koch Brothers’ money.

My biggest regret is that I did not file the complaint in time for a disposition prior to a very close election. Of course, one would have hoped that Lowery’s obvious violations would have resulted in summary disposition by the Ethics Commission, but it appears that justice requires time, even when evidence of guilt is obvious. Sadly, I cannot help but feel that justice delayed was justice denied in this case.

Let me first emphasize that I have no complaints about the Ethics Commission’s director or his staff. They were helpful in the claim’s filing, and carefully assembled the readily available evidence, including Lowery’s previous letter of caution from his lobbying days, in a way that no reasonable defense was possible. Despite the staff's efforts, the Ethics Commission’s members neglected to assess the maximum applicable fine, even when Lowery admitted guilt and skipped the hearing on the matter. Truth be known, however, even the maximum possible fine would have seemed like peanuts compared to the prize of winning a seat in the legislature.

At times I’ve considered whether it was wishful thinking to believe that a finding prior to the election that Lowery repeatedly violated the state’s election laws may have persuaded some voters that Lowery wasn’t very business like in sharing information about his contributions. Some may consider it just as naive to hope that Lowery could surprise us with his upcoming votes and disprove the suggestion that he was bought and paid for by the Koch Brothers.

What is not subject to dispute is that the state’s election laws are a toothless tiger. Furthermore, any help that voters may have expected to receive from the Fourth Estate was largely diminished when newspapers like the Maumelle Monitor and the Democrat-Gazette refused to publish overwhelming evidence of Lowery’s guilt without a formal finding by the Ethics Commission. In this case, you were the media’s only representative to share publicly available information that voters had a right to consider before casting their ballots.

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