Committee spent $203,000 to pass LR sales tax | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Committee spent $203,000 to pass LR sales tax

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 4:53 PM

The Committee for Little Rock's Future filed its post-election report today on its money-raising in the campaign for the penny worth of sales tax increases approved by Little Rock voters Sept. 13. It spent $203,753, which is pretty small change for an increase projected to raise a half-billion over 10 years.

The committee said it raised about $196,253, so it reported a $7,500 deficit on the latest report. I've asked the campaign treasurer about that. It's listed as an accounts payable to the campaign manager.

Here's the report. Some key points:

* CONTRIBUTORS: Real estate interests dominated the first report, with real estate lobbies and companies contributing near half of the amount raised before the election. It was somewhat more diverse this time. The big licks were these:

Almost $15,000 from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which gets $200,000 a year in taxpayer money and which will have effective control over the $22 million (and likely much more eventually) going to research park spending under legislation the chamber dreamed up and paassed;

$15,000 from McGeorge Contracting . This firm is related to the quarry operator that recently got city approval for a land swap to expand its quarry near Granite Mountain);

$5,000 from Grace Communications, a Motorola dealer. A radio upgrade is part of the tax plan;

$15,000 from the Arkansas Zoological Foundation, which supports the zoo, a tax beneficiary;

$5,000 from AT&T.;

$5,000 from Multi-Management Services, a subsidiary of the Baptist Health System;

$5,000 from Fifty for the Future, the old-line business establishment ruling clique.

* ITEMIZED EXPENSES: Forget about it. Apart from a small check for bank charges, the committee disclosed only checks written to the Markham Group, which managed the campaign. More than $95,000 in billings since the last report. The committee did this time what it did on the first report with an amendment after I complained about a lack of specific expense reporting. It broke out expenditures in general categories — almost $30,000 in mail and postage, for example. The $32,000 paid to campaign workers? The $12,500 in "consultant fees"? You'll just have to guess who they were and who got how much. And you'll have to take the Markham Group's word that the money was actually spent that way, no cross-checking against identified recipients. You'll also have to guess who got the direct mail work, as one local competitor wanted. That's not revealed either.

The Arkansas Ethics Commission has notified me that it will take up my complaint about the lack of specific disclosure in a closed probable cause session Oct. 21. This is a large issue with broad state consequences. I argue that the law clearly intends disclosure for campaign committees to be comparable to that for candidates — specific disclosure of expenditures of $100 or more. If it isn't interpreted that way, campaign committees can, from now on (or until the law is changed), pass all money to a disbursing agent who can spend it however he desires with no public accountability. I've asked the commission to rule for transparency. If they decide the law wasn't carefully drafted enough to require this, I've asked them to declare publicly that they'll move quickly to amend the law to put independent committees under the same disclosure rules governing candidates.

PS — $500 Million Tax Too Much!, the committee that opposed the tax, raised and spent $10,133 fighting the measure, which passed 53-47 after early polling showed a much wider margin. It got quite a bang for its buck, beating and breaking even in the tax vote in more than half the city, but being outpolled overwhelmingly, by the margin of victory, in about four precincts in the Heights and Hillcrest, good government neighboorhoods heavily populated by establishment figures. The bulk of opposition money came from the Clean Government PAC. Its officers include Jim Lynch, who led the campaign; former city director Johnnie Pugh; activist Kathy Wells, and Neil Sealy of Arkansas Community Organizations. Its contributors aren't yet available on state reports.

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