Favorite

Stealth politics at grassroots in Arkansas 

A funny thing happened shortly before vote-short developer Dickson Flake got a three-month delay from the Little Rock City Board on considering his widely panned proposal to install a MAPCO filling station and 24-hour convenience store at the dangerous Third and Broadway intersection, just a block and a half from a $70 million Robinson Center Music Hall redo.

New opposition arose from the slick Facebook page of Smart Growth Little Rock, which also seems to have been behind robocalls urging residents to call the City Board to oppose the project.

Who is Smart Growth Little Rock? Good question. No answers are readily available. Some of the social media work has been done, however, by a paid employee of the Markham Group, a political consulting firm.

My reading of state law is that when you've spent $400 to attempt to influence government action, including at the city level, you have to register as a lobbyist. But, after talking with the Ethics Commission, it became apparent to me that there are potential loopholes, particularly since the law was written before social media existed.

For example, a group can get together and buy a newspaper ad to urge approval or defeat of a city ordinance without registering as a lobbyist. The ad itself is proof of the lobbying. No further filing is required. Does that mean that putting together a Facebook page or a Twitter account is similarly exempt from reporting? It's a question yet to be determined.

The hows and whys of campaign spending need more study at every level and not just because of the arrival of sophisticated spending by wealthy interests at City Hall.

Already, Koch brother money has had an unhealthy impact on efforts to control development in the Lake Maumelle watershed. Their anti-regulation zeal has helped translate into a concerted effort to weaken the county ordinance. But the lobbying has left few footprints for the public to follow in ethics filings.

At the state level, another loosely associated group is working to repeal a state law that prevents competition for phone companies from a state broadband network that otherwise could serve public schools. The legislature is being lobbied directly about this, but nobody at FASTERArkansas has filed any lobbyist paperwork or made any meaningful financial reporting. They have conceded Walton money is one source of support. The Markham Group is again handling PR mechanics.

FASTERArkansas is organized under favorable tax laws as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. It may engage in political activities. Its only required federal reporting is a sketchy annual tax return.

This has become the preferred route to channel money into political campaigns without fingerprints. In Arkansas this year, such tax-advantaged organizations are spending millions in races from the Arkansas Supreme Court to governor and U.S. Senator. Sources of the money are not revealed. The people who call the shots operate from the shadows. Such organizations provided the lion's share of money spent in a race for Supreme Court and a primary race for attorney general. Voters have no idea what motivated the fundamentally dishonest advertising they bought.

This should be a bipartisan concern. I happen, for example, to agree wholeheartedly with Smart Growth Little Rock's opposition to the MAPCO and am sympathetic with the aims of FASTERArkansas.

But I'd still like to know who they are and where their money is coming from.

Opponents of limits on contributions to political campaigns say the solution is to remove the limits but require full disclosure. You may judge their sincerity by the current spreading practice —unlimited spending with no meaningful disclosure.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of...

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • UPDATE: Fourth death confirmed in Polk County; suspect identified

    UPDATE: The body of Reilly Scarborough has been found, bringing to four the number of family homicides in Polk County. The nine-year-old was found in woods west of Hatfield. A suspect is in custody.
    • Apr 29, 2017
  • The Saturday open line

    An open line for a Saturday not yet as rainy as predicted, at least everywhere.
    • Apr 29, 2017
  • Baker Kurrus: Opposes Little Rock School District tax proposal

    Baker Kurrus has written a monumental essay explaining why he opposes the proposal in the May 9 special , the Little Rock lawyer and businessman who long served on the Little Rock School Board and spent a year as its superintendent after the state takeover before being fired by Education Commissioner
    • Apr 29, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Neighborliness, in Little Rock and beyond

    I had a parochial topic in mind this week — a surprise plan by Mayor Mark Stodola to address the Arkansas Arts Center's many needs.
    • Nov 19, 2015
  • Bootstraps for me, not thee

    Mean spirit, hypocrisy and misinformation abound among the rump minority threatening to wreck state government rather than allow passage of the state Medicaid appropriation if it continues to include the Obamacare-funded expansion of health insurance coverage for working poor.
    • Apr 14, 2016
  • Trump: The Obama of 2016?

    Conner Eldridge, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, launched an assault on Boozman Monday morning rich with irony and opportunity.
    • May 5, 2016

Most Shared

  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
  • Former state board of education chair Sam Ledbetter weighs in on Little Rock millage vote

    Ledbetter, the former state Board of Education chair who cast the decisive vote in 2015 to take over the LRSD, writes that Education Commissioner Johnny Key "has shown time and again that he is out of touch with our community and the needs of the district." However, Ledbetter supports the May 9 vote as a positive for the district's students and staff.
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Executionpalooza

    Appearances count. I was struck by a single sentence over the weekend in a full page of coverage in The New York Times devoted to the killing spree in Arkansas, beginning with a front-page account of the recent flurry of legal filings on pending executions and continuing inside with an interview with Damien Echols, the former death row inmate.
    • Apr 20, 2017
  • The end of democracy in LR

    The state Board of Education was scheduled to talk this week about the Little Rock School District, under state control for two years because six of its 48 schools failed to meet an arbitrary pass rate on a standardized test.
    • Apr 13, 2017
  • Internet looting continues

    The 2017 legislative session concluded without passage of a bill to encourage internet merchants to collect and remit taxes on sales in Arkansas, though internet giant Amazon has begun doing so voluntarily.
    • Apr 6, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Fishing the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Fishing the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Arkansas angler and fishing expert Billy Murray shares his extensive knowledge of the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Event Calendar

« »

April

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30  

Most Viewed

  • Intracity tourism

    The issues that tug at my heartstrings are neighborhood stigma and neighborhood segregation, which are so prevalent in Little Rock. In my opinion, the solution to those problems is "intracity tourism."

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: O'Reilly's fall

    • So I did what women have always done: I found another job and quit before…

    • on April 29, 2017
  • Re: O'Reilly's fall

    • Knowing what processes are at work in a person's mind is difficult or even impossible,…

    • on April 29, 2017
  • Re: O'Reilly's fall

    • Sorry, Olphart. I wasn't thinking. Let's slam that door together. See how much noise we…

    • on April 29, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation