The shoe drops. This mug shot of Democratic state Treasurer Martha Shoffner appeared on the Pulaski County sheriff's office jail intake page late this afternoon. (She looked a little distracted when I saw her looking over the cottage cheese in a case at Kroger's earlier this week.) Sorry: I originally called her auditor incorrectly. I have many calls out for more information.
Shoffner has been under scrutiny for a variety of issues including charges of favoritism in handling of state investments with a securities firm and also in sloppy reporting and spending of state campaign finance money. She's been subject, too, of a tough legislative audit and Republicans have been calling for her to resign.
UPDATE: I"ve heard from Kimberly Brunell, agent in charge of the Little Rock office of the FBI. She's circumspect:
I can tell you that FBI agents today arrested Martha Shoffner on Hobbs Act charges.
Brunell said there'd be more information at a news conference Monday, probably following Shoffner's appearance in a U.S. magistrate's court. She'll remain jailed until then.
I tried to press Brunell, but she said she couldn't provide details. She did say, in response to my question of whether campaign finance or official conduct figured in the charges, that I should look to the portion of the Hobbs Act that refers to "extortion under color of official rights." Said Brunell: "That was the part she was charged under." Then she said no more.
Here's what you need to know about the Hobbs Act. Excerpt:
In order to show a violation of the Hobbs Act under this provision, the Supreme Court recently held that "the Government need only show that a public official has obtained a payment to which he was not entitled, knowing that the payment was made in return for official acts."
I guess you could still argue, knowing nothing of the facts underlying this arrest, that this still could pertain to campaign contributions in return for official acts, as well as payments of some sort for investment decisions. Monday should be interesting.
Republicans are popping champagne corks. Justifiably,
UPDATE II: a spokesman for Gov. Beebe says they have no comment. They know nothing beyond press reports.
In that vein, check a YouTube of extremist Republican gubernatorial candidate Curtis Coleman talking of the need to build a "farm team" to elect the right sorts of people in three coming races for Supreme Court. He named one candidate he believed in — Rhonda Wood. "Solid and sound," Coleman said. A Coleman seal of approval is just about as big a disincentive to vote for Wood as I could imagine.
Speaking of Curtis Coleman: I learned this morning that some jokester had submitted a $1,000 pledge to Coleman's Institute for Constitutional Policy in my name. But then I was informed by a followup e-mail that the Institute was not currently accepting contributions. He's claimed it is a registered nonprofit, though it hasn't attained that official tax deductible status yet (giving him the chance to blame it all on the IRS, naturally). Good thing he's not registered yet. 501c3s are not supposed to engage in political advocacy, such as touting a candidate for Supreme Court. Or the Institute leader's own candidacy for governor.
The line is open. Final thoughts:
* SCHOOL LEADER NAMED: Tom Kimbrell, the state Education director, has named Curtis Turner, superintendent at Eureka Springs, to take over leadership of the Mineral Springs School District. The state took control of the district yesterday because of fiscal woes. Turner has a long resume of school work, including in the fiscal distress unit of the state department.
* DECONSTRUCTING TOM COTTON: Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Club for Growth) is right proud of the speech he gave on the floor of the House in support of the 37th or 99th vote by Republicans to repeal Obamacare (that very odious program that Arkansas Republicans just embraced for its money and benefits to Arkies.) It was a bravura performance in fundamental dishonesty, in that he seemd to want to paint the Democrats as Medicare cutters when he's on the fringe of the Paul Ryan Nutpack that would devastate the country's social safety net.
His performance was so galling to one supporter of Obamacare and of the man Cotton seems poised to attack in 2014, Sen. Mark Pryor, that he provided a line-by-line critique of Cotton's remarks. Recommended:
Carter has improved as a public speaker pretty dramatically over the course of the last five months and he would be a formidable candidate in a general election. On nearly every issue he has voted as a standard Arkansas Republican, but he has a knack for non-substantive, stylistic appeals to the center (publicly cussing former Rep. Jon Hubbard, tussling with Sen. Bryan King, reprimanding Rep. Nate Bell, urging a focus on bread-and-butter economic issues rather than hot-button social issues). Today's speech was no exception, with a call for "more elected officials from the middle and less from the fringe."
I suspect there are a good number of center-right voters that pulled the lever for Beebe in general elections that would find Carter appealing. The problem is getting to the general, and Carter acknowledged that he would have had a tough road in a Republican primary. That was one factor in his decision, he said.
Talking to consultants on how things would need to be done in the traditional way to win a Republican primary...I’m who I am. I don’t know if the Republican party in a primary is willing to elect a guy like me. I don’t know. Certainly I thought about all that.
The main substance of his speech today, by the way, was devoted to political process issues. Carter expressed strong disapproval of term limits and support for the idea of an open primary system — no division by parties, top two finishers move to the general. Of course, whatever the merits of those ideas, let us note the obvious: they would be a boon to the political future of one Davy Carter.
Easy score. Arkansas Republican Party says U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor should return political contributions he's received from the union that represents Treasury Department employees, which include IRS workers.
How can he hold the IRS accountable as a recipient of $11,000, the GOP asks.
This is fair game, but it can be played without cease against every candidate that takes contributions, meaning all of them.
How will Rep. Tom Cotton hold big business in America accountable when he's a wholly owned subsidiary of the Club for Growth?
How will a congressman whose treasury is stuffed with defense contractor money hold them accountable?
The money always carries a taint. Today, it's the IRS (if, of course, you also first presume every single IRS employee is corrupt, including, presumably, the inspector general who produced the report highlighting mismanagement in the agency.) The politicians who got elected with the help of stealth 501c4 money (most of them Republicans) can't be viewed as too likely to insist on proper enforcement of tax laws on these groups, can they now?
Instead, Carter has taken a banking executive position. (See jump for news release.) He'll be executive vice president of Home Bancshares. He previously was a division president for Centennial Bank in Cabot, part of the Home banking group.
His statement this morning:
After much deliberation, I have decided against a campaign for Governor at this time. In the past weeks I have had many calls of encouragement and offers of support from fellow Republicans, Independents and yes, even Democrats, all of which I very much appreciate. I love this state and I love public service. Although I will be returning to the private sector, I will find ways to remain involved in public service in Arkansas in the years ahead.
As several have noted, an open call this week by Carter for some moderation on the Republican Party's press for gun and abortion issues (and he's also viewed by some GOPers as squishy on religious issues) was not a particularly effective way to set the tone for a GOP primary. It makes him an appealing crossover candidate, but will dog him forever, I'd say, on any future Republican ambitions.
Mike Ross and Bill Halter, so far, are the sole combatants on the Democratic side. Carter's decision is a benefit to the Democratic nominee. The likelihood is that the winner — and you'd have to make Ross the favorite at this point — will face Asa Hutchinson, three times a loser in statewide races.
In for a penny ....
Asa Hutchinson, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, seems happy to be indelibly branded as the NRA's front man on guns as the calendar rolls toward the May gubernatorial primary. And why not, given the recent gunfest legislative session?
Says here that he'll debate Sarah Brady May 27 on gun control in a program in California moderated by Leon Panetta. Brady chairs the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Her husband, Ronald Reagan's press secretary, was shot in the 1981 Reagan assassination attempt
Does the endorsement of James Lee Witt, Bill Clinton's FEMA director, now a bigtime lobbyist/consultant, help Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross? Surely it will in Wildcat Holler.
Or is Bill Halter's Arkansas Promise more of a winner?
The least surprising news of the day, but useful confirmation nonetheless. A new report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics about most states' failure to require meaningful disclosure of independent spending in state political races.
In 30 states it is impossible to calculate how much money is being spent on campaigns by outside groups like 'social welfare' nonprofits - information that is mostly available when it comes to federal contests.
And in 35 states, disclosure laws are less stringent than federal election laws, meaning shadowy nonprofit groups and big-spending super PACs are able to do business virtually undetected in many races, according to a new report.
Dark money rules here. Think the Koch front, Americans for Prosperity, but, by comparison with some, it is somewhat upfront about its efforts.
Arkansas was one of 26 states getting a grade of F on requiring disclosure of campaign spending. And the rankings didn't even consider the anonymity of the contributors to many of the groups that spend "dark money." The Institute notes:
Increasingly, ''social welfare'' nonprofits and trade associations are being used to hide donors' identities in both federal and state races.
Here's the scorecard, with points awarded in six categories. Arkansas got a zero in five of them, but was awarded the maximum 30 points for requiring reporting of independent expenditures that expressly advocate an election outcome, but not who was targeted by the expenditures or what the spender's position is. It got a zero for having no reporting requirement on electioneering communications.
Ask your Republican majority legislator if he or she would endorse fuller reporting of independent campaign expenditures.
This from a man who voted for all the fetus and firearm legislation, some of it patently unconstitutional, approved in the recent legislative session.
I think I'll pull a Bro. Rapert on Crazy Davy. Today's Bible sword drill:
You could look it up. In the context it means you haven't heard the last of gun waving, fetal fascination, gay bashing or force feeding of religion from Arkansas Republicans and I think Carter is smart enough to know it, but was playing to the press peanut gallery.
(Oh, OK, I won't make you look it up: "Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.")
I have actually developed a contrarian view of legislative events of late. It is that there's been entirely too much focus — by me and others — on the social issue claptrap that generated so much heat. The bigger story of the legislature was the fundamental reordering of government begun swiftly and forcefully by the new Republican majority. Executive power was diminished. Tax cuts were tailored almost exclusively to benefit the wealthy (Crazy Davy's blanket exemption on capital gains for the very wealthiest transactions gets the Walton Family MVP trophy). The adoption of Obamacare masked an attack on conventional Medicaid that will have devastating impact in years to come if the so-called private option falters. The legislative auditing arm is being put to use in political vendettas. Republican lobbying was critical in defeating a bill that would have prevented the forced retirement of some older judges Republicans like Rhonda Wood wanted to see go home to make room for their ascension. Through "special language," which is a democracy-defying trick, a private company that makes millions off serving home schoolers got a huge windfall (thanks, Johnny Key). The Walton-financed attack on the public schools didn't advance as far as their lobbyist Luke Gordy hoped, but they have the money and will to play the long game. There was much more organic damage, particularly in election process tinkering aimed at depressing turnout by Democratic constituencies. Republicans would have neutered the attorney general's office, but pulled back in part because they realized they might control that office someday, too.
All in all, I kind of wish the session really HAD been all about guns and fetuses. Bad as that legislation was, it was mostly sound and fury signifying little. The abortion bills will be struck down in court. We already had law and constitution heavily weighted against women's medical rights. Similarly, Arkansas already was about as permissive as possible on gun law. Advances in gun nuttery were mostly on the margins, except for the legal trick bag by which the zanies think they've totally deregulated weapon carrying. Maybe they did. It's still of far less concern than the tectonic movement toward a strangled government run for the wealthy without regard for women's rights; ethnic, racial, religious or sexual minorities, or, of course, Democrats. Speaker Carter was on board with all this, by the way, so you'll excuse me if I grab the salt when I read the wide-eyed accounts of his moderation.
But more bodacious than Carter was Rep. John Burris, who asserted that Democratic legislators really wanted the Medicaid expansion to fail and had worked to that end. It was left to Democratic Rep. Fred Love to inject honesty and salient facts into the discussion. How, he noted, can you say Democrats worked to defeat legislation that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM VOTED FOR?
Faith has always trumped facts in the Republican order of battle. Prepare for more.
Fuller drew heat on occasion for being part of an ABC vanguard that oversaw a dramatic expansion of "private club" permits in previously dry counties at establishments that look for all the world like conventional restaurants with booze.
I have left a message for Fuller. I'm curious if his lobbying business might expand into the beverage realm. The recent death of Andy Crawford means there's an opening for a representative for retail liquor stores.
UPDATE: I reached Fuller by phone. He brought up Crawford himself. He said he had no specific plans on the horizon, but said Crawford's son, Drew, had planned to pick up some of his father's work. "I told Drew I wold be glad to act as his wingman and give him non-paid advice. I can't give good advice and be a regulator," he said. But he also said he thought the time had come for him to step aside and that he thought the alcoholic beverage business had made positive strides during his tenure.
On political matters, Fuller said he wasn't ready to commit generally on where he'd stand in the 2014 gubernatorial race but he certainly supported Asa Hutchinson in the Republican primary.
Carter is a political operator, no doubt about that. He snookered Democrats into supporting his rump run for speaker then presided over a legislative session in which Republicans got everything they wanted, including Obamacare Medicaid expansion in a deal that gave Republicans the credit and the spin that they'd fixed something President Obama had broken, (as opposed to having passed over huge obstacles and providing enormous financial benefit to Arkansas.)
I can't claim credit for noting this, but it's a good observation. Carter also has been hailed as a tax cutter. I've said all along he hasn't gotten nearly the (dis)credit he deserves for tax cuts overwhelmingly weighted to the ultrarich and done without regard to state needs (particularly in the future) or anything like the zero-based budgeting that you might engage in before a whopping tax cut. Don't believe me. Read on for Carter's own account of how he personally saved the day:
“I thought we were in a bad place within the House amongst the members, in the public, with the media, I had to do something to change the dynamics,” Carter said. “I had a pity party that Friday night, worked my way out of that over the weekend, and thought I’d come back and shake it up a bit.
The following Tuesday Carter gave his famous “half-time speech,” where he quickly made rounds in three committees — Judiciary, Public Health, and Revenue & Tax. He implored all three panels to get off the social issues and get to the fiscal side of the session’s business.
“In hindsight, I think it worked. We weren’t talking about all of those things. We were talking about how crazy Davy Carter was for calling for $150 million in tax cuts,” Carter recalled. He also admits that walking down the capitol steps from the House that morning, he was planning on asking for $100 million in tax cuts, but $150 million rolled off his tongue at the Revenue and Tax Committee table.
Got that? Crazy Davy pulled that tax cut figure right out of the place where the sun doesn't shine. Based on nothing. Just a nice big, semi-round, easy-to-demagogue number.
If this is the best we've got, we truly are screwed. Please note, too, that his call to turn attention away from all those "social issues" came after all the nutty stuff was well on its way to passage, WITH Crazy Davy's votes.
The rest of the Top 10: Lamoureux, Burris, Collins, Dismang, Elliott, Key, Leding, Sabin, Sanders.
She apparently got the answer. She's in, AP reports. Formal announcement next month. She's another hard-core conservative to go with Curtis Coleman in the primary against Asa Hutchinson, the presumed frontrunner, who manages to look moderate by comparison.
She's term limited, so what the hey?
And, hey. Wonder if this helps Davy Carter get in the race? In a three-way battle for the extremist Republican vote (if that's not repetitious), might there be a possibility of a surprise?
PS — News accounts quote Hobbs as saying God wanted her to enter the race. How come the reporters missed the obvious followup question: Did He tell her she was going to win?
Hobbs is a Republican backbencher who drew legislative notice mostly for negative reasons. She hated the idea of providing continuing state help to cover the costs of tests for people seeking high school equivalency diplomas.
She also famously suggested that if the woman who cleaned her house would just put in some more work she could pay for her child's health insurance without resorting to the government-financed ARKids program.
I thought Curtis Coleman already had nailed down the vote from those who like this sort of thinking. He better gear up.
* It will be a "donnybrook."
* It will be a "dogfight."
* It will be a good opportunity for candidates to "present who they are."
* "Curve balls" will be thrown.
* "The scripted part is less important than the way a candidate responds to unforeseen circumstances."
* Also, the item said, the campaign "will test candidate's 'metal' by fire."
Sounds like they all better don full mettle jackets.
Able Markus, I guess you realize that the REPUBLICAN Land Commissioner was a church janitor…
Like reading the red words in the Bible tell a different story than…
Very powerful video! Thanks for posting Max.
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