Thursday, October 23, 2014

Arkansas Ethics Commission to probe Leslie Rutledge's ad coordination. It's big.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 10:22 AM

REMEMBER THIS AD: It could symbolize the end of campaign finance accountability in Arkansas.
  • REMEMBER THIS AD: It could symbolize the end of campaign finance accountability in Arkansas.

Blue Hog Report's Matt Campbell reports
that the Arkansas Ethics Commission has notified him he's provided sufficient grounds for it to investigate Republican attorney general candidate Leslie Rutledge's participation in TV ads promoting her candidacy by a dark money group.

This is a BIG deal. Possibly a watershed case.

It's unlikely to have any impact on this particular race. Even a probable cause finding — up or down — isn't likely before the Nov. 4 election.

But what the Commission decides in this case could wreck campaign finance accountability as we know it. Explanation:

The Republican Attorney Generals Association — a 527 Super PAC whose financial backing specifics are unknown — poured $400,000 into TV ads touting Rutledge's campaign theme, fighting President Obama. It, regrettably, can do that without meeting any sort of meaningful disclosure standard so long as it's an independent "voter education" message and avoids direct advocacy.

But there was this twist: The ad featured Leslie Rutledge herself. She speaks. She holds a salt shaker. Clearly, if she didn't dictate the ad, she approved its content. Her appearance was arranged by RAGA and she willingly participated. This kind of direct coordination is clearly prohibited in federal law between candidates and independent groups. Rutledge says it is not prohibited by state law. She claims she got clearance from the Ethics Commission to do it. Apparently not, since it finds Blue Hog's complaint worthy of review.

Though the ad may not include "express advocacy" words — vote FOR Rutledge; vote AGAINST Democrat Nate Steel — Rutledge's presence and use of her campaign theme should prove to any fair observer that this is an ad aimed at electing Leslie Rutledge. She participated. The ad should be reported as a campaign contribution to her and the laws on contribution limits and disclosure of donors should apply.

If the Ethics Commission does NOT come to this conclusion, Katie bar the door. 

Every Super PAC, 501c4 and silver spooner like Jackson T. Stephens Jr. will be buying TV ads featuring the candidate of their choice spouting the identical campaign message they spout in their own advertising. But they will be unfettered by disclosure and contribution limits.

It will be the end of accountability in Arkansas election campaigns.

This development might further help you understand why Rutledge is also benefiting from — though not making a personal appearance in — a $1.8 million ad buy to trash Nate Steel by the Center for Individual Freedom. Nobody knows who they really are (maybe Big Tobacco), but we do know absolutely that they have spent their money in the past to protect the ability of rich people to contribute unlimited amounts in secret to political campaigns.

By directly participating in and defending this kind of clandestine stuff, Leslie Rutledge is saying  that she opposes transparency in political campaigns. There was a time — when dark money was being used against HER in the primary — that she had a different view. We defended her then. We don't now.


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