Fresh off a key role in an 11th hour effort by which a handful of Republicans and the Democratic caucus made Rep. Davy Carter the next House speaker, Rep. John Burris of Harrison is looking to increase his clout in Arkansas Republican Party politics.
He's running for first vice chairman of the state party against Duane Neal of Benton County.
In a letter to state committee members seeking support, Burris said: "The position of 1st Vice-Chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas is critical to our party's success in 2014. This position is charged with chairing the Budget Committee, which means playing an integral role in the financial stability of the party. I believe my prior experience will help me perform critical tasks, such as assisting with fundraising, preparing and monitoring the party budget, and ensuring we are compliant with all state and federal election law requirements."
Burris, as House minority leader in 2012, led efforts to recruit and help the Republican candidates who won a one-vote majority in the House in the November election. In response to a question, he said he would not expect a salary if elected party vice chairman. Good thing. Otherwise, he'd be raising money from corporate donors with business before the legislature that would find its way back to his pocket. Merely soliciting this cash as a sitting member of the legislature might appear problematic to some.
Burris' role in Carter's election likely will be an issue — even if unspoken — in the election for first vice chair. Carter's choice overthrew the expected election of Republican Rep. Terry Rice of Waldron to the speaker's chair. Some of his supporters remain unhappy about it.
Burris has a way about turning up in ticklish ethical situations. He was an outspoken opponent of the Regnat Populus initiative to tighten the state ethics laws, including by ending lobbyist-provided freebies for legislators. He also was cleared last week by the state Ethics Commission of violating the rule against using campaign money for political contributions on others. The Ethics Commission bought his argument that buying tickets to campaign events of others, even at $250 a head, could be viewed as a legitimate campaign expense because a candidate might make important contacts there for his own campaign, including with other contributors. The reasoning seems flawed: Burris had no election opposition and thus had no need to raise campaign money, except to build a carryover slush fund allowed incumbent legislators. Legislative candidates have also developed a habit of holding check-passing events loosely described as official campaign functions attended primarily by other legislators bearing checks for those who need money.
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