City attorney makes it official: LR incumbents are protected on campaign carryover | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 12, 2017

City attorney makes it official: LR incumbents are protected on campaign carryover

Posted By on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 7:05 AM

Blogger Russ Racop has received a formal rejection from Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter of his complaint that Mayor Mark Stodola is in "flagrant" violation of a city ordinance by keeping $78,000 in carryover money from his last uncontested election campaign for use in the 2018 election.

Carpenter agreed that such carryover is a violation of the city ordinance, which says unspent campaign money must be returned to donors or given to charitable causes. But, he said, state law doesn't allow the city to enforce the ordinance because it doesn't provide the city power to impose such limits on the use of campaign money.

As we've noted before, Carpenter DOES believe state law allows the city to prevent candidates for city office from raising money until five months before an election as the same ordinance specifies. Carpenter, Stodola and the city board have been pressing the state Ethics Commission — so far unsuccessfully — for action against Warwick Sabin and Frank Scott, candidates for mayor against Stodola, who've established "exploratory" committees to raise money outside the five-month window. Sabin and Scott believe that the state law allowing exploratory committees negates the city ordinance.

City directors don't like this because some of them might have challengers in 2018, too. It wouldn't do if their powers of incumbency could be eroded slightly by opponents' headstart on campaign fund-raising.

Doesn't really matter if Carpenter is right in this interpretation. It's baldly hypocritical for city officials to attempt to punish Sabin and Scott for violating an ordinance that Stodola is set to violate to the tune of $78,000.

Carpenter went beyond legal opinion in the letter. He volunteered — though it's irrelevant to the legal question — that Stodola tried to refund his carryover, but none of the contributors wanted the money back. And he also said Stodola had made several thousand in unspecified charitable contributions, including to help the city build a gate in a neighborhood.

Racop has announced plans to challenge City Director Doris Wright next year.

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