Post-ethics Arkansas: cloning PACs to dodge ban on corporate contributions | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Post-ethics Arkansas: cloning PACs to dodge ban on corporate contributions

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2015 at 12:14 PM

PAC MAN: Bruce Hawkins has set up seven to funnerl corporate money to legislative candidates.
  • PAC MAN: Bruce Hawkins has set up seven to funnerl corporate money to legislative candidates.
The constitutional amendment nominally described as an ethics measure has drawn my ire before. Through it, legislators have gotten a huge pay raise and looser term limits. It supposedly limited freebies, but last legislative session lawmakers had a full assortment of free meals and drinks to choose from almost daily.

"Fine-tuning" of that amendment by the legislature preserved free travel and feeding by lobbyists while on those junkets. It also gave legislators a mulligan on ethics violations, allowing them to "correct" any "errors" brought to their attention. The ethics amendment also didn't prevent a lobbyist, Mullenix and Associates, from rounding up special interest money to pay for lavish dinners honoring the legislative kingpins, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam and Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang.

The ban on post-legislative lobbying has proven meaningless. Legislators just call themselves consultants — see John Burris and Tommy Wren, to name two — and instantly start drawing pay from special interest admirers.

At least, you might say, the amendment stopped corporate contributions to legislative campaigns.

Not exactly.

PAC contributions are still allowed. Where do PACs get their money? From corporations, of course. And there's a new development — the lobbyist-run PAC that draws money from multiple interests, not just a special interest PAC like those long established by affinity group lobbies for realtors, bankers, lawyers and the like. The big difference now is that these PACs are being cloned and sometimes the same contributors are giving the maximum $5,000 to multiple PACs.

A good example is lobbyist Bruce Hawkins, a former Democratic legislator and son of infamous former local political boss, the late Sheriff Marlin Hawkins. He was on the fringe of the multiple PAC creations that contributed to Mike Maggio's downfall. And he's at it again.

Hawkins, who also runs a lucrative insurance business with a big state contract, has set up SEVEN political action committees, The DBH Management Consulting PACs, numbers 1 through 7.

So far, Number One, has been most active. It took in $20,000 recently — $5,000 each —  from Delta Dental, the Arkansas Association of Police Chiefs, Crown Cork and Seal (a company helped out of paying asbestos injury claims by Hawkins lobbying) and a total of $5,000 from two Paragould insurance companies with the same mailing address, United Home Insurance and Farm and Home Mutual.

And out the money went to 16 legislators, mostly Republicans, plus the Senate Republican Caucus and the Arkansas Republican Party. Bart Hester, Kim Hendren, Charlie Collins, Ron Caldwell and Eddie Joe Williams all got at least $2,5000.

It's legalized laundering of corporate money into legislators' campaigns. And it was done by a single lobbyist sure to win friends and influence people with his redistribution of corporate cash. 

Those same two Paragould insurance companies also put $5,000 into DBH PAC 3. It has spent $2,000 so far on the campaign by Courtney Goodson for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

DBH PACs 4, 5, 6 and 7 all report $5,000 contributions each from the Conway County Legal Beverage Association, a group that works to protect the lucrative Conway County liquor business from competition from the likes of neighboring Faulkner County. Its efforts helped defeat a wet referendum in Faulkner County in 2014. So far, the money raised by Hawkins hasn't been put to work for a candidate on the ballot next year.

We'll be looking more at these multiple PACs, particularly the wad of PACs set up by Joe Maynard and Brenda Vassaur Taylor — likely to advance the causes of Tea Party candidates to unseat people who voted for the private option version of Obamacare.

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