Medical marijuana group keeps public in dark on backers | Arkansas Blog

Monday, November 7, 2016

Medical marijuana group keeps public in dark on backers

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2016 at 11:13 AM

click to enlarge WHO PAID? This is a clip from one of several TV ads playing for Issue 6, legalizing medical marijuana. The group behind the ad won't disclose who's paying.
  • WHO PAID? This is a clip from one of several TV ads playing for Issue 6, legalizing medical marijuana. The group behind the ad won't disclose who's paying.
Voters will go to the polls Tuesday and decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical use, perhaps influenced by a heavy program of TV advertising whose backers remain mostly unknown.

I voted for Issue 6 and I'm not sorry I did. But I don't like dark money and my efforts to find out who's behind the TV advertising have so far been fruitless.

Issue 6 got on the ballot through the efforts of Arkansas United for Medical Marijuana. It raised $885,000 for the petition campaign. The money came from the Bevans Family Trust, whose interests include a retail liquor business in Maumelle and which put in more than $411,000; and from Broadleaf PSG, an Ohio corporation headed by Cheney Pruett of Texarkana, who's interested in getting into the business, which put in more than $311,000.

A new committee was formed to promote Issue 6, Informing Arkansas. It is chaired by Karyn Watkins of Maumelle, who has not answered phone calls. The committee's address is a Maumelle mail drop.

Nov. 2, it reported $488,521 in contributions and expenditures of $448,601. Pruett's Broadleaf PSG paid for $112,000 worth of digital media advertising. Vantage Investments of Little Rock put in $376,521. That money has gone into TV advertising purchased by Diamond States Consulting.

Who is Vantage Investments? David Couch, who headed Arkansans United, said he didn't know. He referred me to Keith Emis, the Republican operative who heads Diamond State. He hasn't answered phone or email queries.

UPDATE: Said Emis by e-mail: "My firm was retained to create and place media. I am not authorized to speak on behalf of my clients."

The state's corporate record lists one company with a name similar to that of the listed contributor. It is Vantage Investments Holdings LLC. It was formed in 2014 by Jackson T. Stephens III, grandson of the co-founder of the Stephens Inc . investments empire. But the secretary of state's records say that the LLC has been dissolved. I have been not been able to find a contact number for J.T. Stephens to ask him whether there's a connection.

I'll say the same thing for a  measure I support that I say for those I oppose: The public deserves to know who's paying for the advertising and what their motivation might be. Here, it's a reasonable bet that investors hope to get into the business if it is legalized. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'd reported earlier that the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, Republican money bags Ron Cameron, Stephens Inc. executive Curt Bradbury, and lobbyists Ted and Julie Mullenix accounted for most of $148,000 recently spent by Arkansans Against Legalized  Legalized Medical Marijuana.


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