City Board moves to protect incumbents from early fund-raising. But what about Stodola's nest egg? | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

City Board moves to protect incumbents from early fund-raising. But what about Stodola's nest egg?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 7:28 AM

MAYOR STODOLA: City board goes to bat against his opponents' fund-raising. Missing was a discussion of how Stodola is hanging onto excess campaign money despite a prohibition in the city ordinance. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • MAYOR STODOLA: City board goes to bat against his opponents' fund-raising. Missing was a discussion of how Stodola is hanging onto excess campaign money despite a prohibition in the city ordinance.

The Little Rock City Board voted unanimously Monday night to ask for a state Ethics Commission opinion aimed at stopping two mayoral candidates for mayor from using exploratory committees to raise campaign contributions.

The resolution omitted any specific reference, however, to Mayor Mark Stodola's ability to use more than $70,000 in carryover money from an unopposed campaign in 2014. That is seemingly prohibited by the city ordinance the board wants to use against mayoral candidates Warwick Sabin and Frank Scott — and anyone else who might form an exploratory committee to run against any of them.

Little Rock has a city ordinance that prohibits fund-raising more than five months before an election — June for the 2018 city elections. It arose from a good government effort to prohibit fund-raising whenever a critical vote was pending that a moneyed interest might like to influence.

To mount their campaigns, Sabin and Scott are relying on a state law that allows "exploratory" fund-raising two years before an election. So far, the state Ethics Commission has given their procedure a pass by saying it has no jurisdiction over a city ordinance. City Attorney Tom Carpenter contends that it does. The Board has now asked for an advisory opinion, preferably expedited, on whether the city may set a more limited time period to collect contributions.

Comments at the board meeting last night indicated board members felt they were put at a disadvantage by the exploratory committees. Of course, they could also avail themselves of the option, against the expressed language of the ordinance.

But the Democrat-Gazette account didn't mention any concern about Mark Stodola's carryover treasury.

My opinion: The short fund-raising window was good government, though it tends to work in favor of incumbents. It is, at a minimum, a violation of the spirit of city law  to use an exploratory committee to get around it. But Mark Stodola's use of money raised THREE YEARS AGO is perhaps even a larger spiritual violation, since he's acted with such long aforethought. It's even worse because it's a stockpile poured into a sure-thing candidate. It's an old tactic of the moneyed interests in state legislative races. It builds up a heap of goodwill.

I was interested in a passage in the D-G article on the controversy. It said:

Incumbent Mayor Mark Stodola, who said he will run for re-election, is not allowed to collect campaign contributions until June 1. He was allowed to keep money left over from the last election cycle. His account holds a carryover amount of $78,412.
Allowed by whom? Here's what the City Code says:

Sec. 2-389. - Balance of funds over expenses.

Within thirty (30) days following a general election, if there is no campaign deficit, a candidate for municipal office shall turn over any balance of campaign funds over expenses incurred as of the day of election either to:

(a) The city for the benefit of the city general fund; or (b) A nonprofit organization which is exempt from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of the United State Internal Revenue Code; or (c) The contributors to the candidate's campaign; or (d) A combination of the entities listed in this subsection.
Carpenter, Stodola and the City Board, in essence, are saying state law on exploratory committees DOES NOT override the city ordinance on early campaign fund-raising, EXCEPT, apparently, to the extent that it overrides the clear dictate of the same ordinance that says Mark Stodola should have given away his campaign excess almost three years ago.

Perhaps somebody should file an ethics complaint against Stodola for failing to follow the ordinance to clear that matter up. At a minimum, that emergency advisory opinion should explicitly cover the point as well. I asked Stodola about this money years ago and he evaded the questions.

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