A further look at sewer money in judicial races | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A further look at sewer money in judicial races

Posted By on Sun, May 20, 2018 at 8:12 AM

click to enlarge FIGHT SEWER MONEY: Re-elect Judge Bart Virden.
  • FIGHT SEWER MONEY: Re-elect Judge Bart Virden.

More details today on the Republican State Leadership Committee, which is attempting to buy a couple of Arkansas appellate court seats along with another sewer money distributor, the Judicial Crisis Network.

I added to a post yesterday on judicial races a comment from David James, the communications director of the RSLC, objecting to my application of the term "dark money" to his organization, a so-called 527 independent expenditure committee that files financial reports at the state and federal level.

I was not particularly sympathetic. The filing most readily accessible to Arkansas voters about the $654,000 the RSLC is pumping into races for Arkansas Supreme Court and Arkansas Court of Appeals lists contributors to the effort only as the Republican State Leadership Committee. That's pretty opaque.

It is true, however, that if you have Internet expertise you can root out federal IRS filings of the organization, which raises money nationally to influence election of Republicans to state offices around the country. Here, for example, is the first quarter report of the group, accounting for $4.5 million in contributions more than a month before the money was poured into Arkansas in May. The connection to Arkansas? Apart from $100,000 from Walmart and a $200 contribution from a UALR professor, not much jumps out. Martin says contributions are not earmarked for specific races. If there's a giver with a specific interest in Arkansas, which has happened in the past with RSLC giving, there's no way for voters to know.

What does jump out is the amount of money contributed to the cause by big drug and insurance companies, among other major corporate interests. This continues a pattern. When Open Secrets analyzed the group's 2016 spending, it found the United States Chamber of Commerce at the top of the list and big help from drug, insurance, tobacco and other corporate interests. They are not seeking to advance the interests of the sons and daughters of toil in Arkansas.

If you pay premiums to Blue Cross, be glad to know the national organization is plowing some of its revenue into supporting election of Republican candidates across the country, including a couple of Republicans seeking the nominally non-partisan judicial seats in next week's Arkansas election — David Sterling for Supreme Court and Johnnie Copeland for Court of Appeals. The RSLC has been busy practicing dark political arts with inaccurate advertising against incumbent Court of Appeals Judge Bart Virden and in support of Sterling's race against Justice Courtney Goodson and Kenneth Hixson for Supreme Court.

If the RSLC spending is not wholly dark, as is the case with the Judicial Crisis Network, it is also not readily transparent in Arkansas. But, more significantly, it is exempt from any limit on the money it may receive or spend directly against political candidates. Candidates like Sterling and Coleman, need not raise much money on their own, confident that the RSLC and Judicial Crisis Network are doing their work for them — unrestrained by campaign spending limits or, apparently, by truth in advertising.  From where I sit, that's pretty dark.

But rather than quibble or curse the word darkness, as the RSLC does, let's just call it sewer money. The only way to fight it, as I said yesterday, is to vote for those the dark forces (Karl Rove is credited with inspiring the RSLC) are trying to beat — Courtney Goodson or Kenneth Hixson for Supreme Court. Given the group's inaccurate ads and effective coordination with his opponent in the Court of Appeals race, it is particularly important to vote FOR BART VIRDEN for Court of Appeals. We have enough RSLC puppets on the bench already.

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