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Ethics Commission gives Doyle Webb a little help in race against Leslie Rutledge. It could have done much more.

Arkansas News Headlines
Arkansas News Headlines

Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning helpful to lieutenant governor Doyle Webb or anybody else who might find themselves in a runoff for that race with Leslie Rutledge.

The opinion says that money Rutledge raised for the general election can’t be shifted to the runoff unless she first gets permission from the contributors and then only if they haven’t contributed the maximum $2,900 to the primary campaign. She has $465,000 sitting in that general account.

Why does she have so much money? Because she raised more than $1 million for primary and general election races for governor before quitting the race because of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ presumed invincibility. She rolled it into her race for lieutenant governor

She should not have been allowed to do this rollover. I think the law is clear but the Ethics Commission sees things differently, in its customary fashion of going easy on powerful politicians. As I wrote before, about money hauls Rutledge and Tim Griffin retained after quitting the governor’s race:

Ethics rules say that when a candidate “withdraws” from a race for office, contributions must be returned to contributors or a narrow list of other uses, such as charitable purposes, the state treasury or a political party. They DO NOT INCLUDE the money rolling over into a different race.

Perhaps Rutledge and Griffin can demonstrate that they individually solicited every donor for approval to redirect money to a different campaign than the one for which they made the solicitation and can demonstrate individual approval for that. It still looks shady to me, but not if the Ethics Commission has invented a rule on the fly to cover it. Sen. Jonathan Dismang properly tried to clarify this in the 2021 session, but it was a bad session for ethics. His bill was defeated along while one intended to shield dark money spending, sponsored by Kochhead David Ray, passed easily.

This ruling is good for Webb or any other potential runoff contestant because most of Rutledge’s general election money represents double givers of the maximum of $2,900 to her primary and general election campaigns for lieutenant governor. This includes $400,00 in general governor’s election campaign contribution rollovers, also many double givers of the maximum. The short-on-ethics Ethics Commission rulemaking-on-the-fly at least puts some limits on its use.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that Rutledge will easily lead the ticket. Can she win without a runoff? Her opponents hope not, thus Webb’s strategic request for an advisory opinion and Gregory Bledsoe’s recent attack advertising against Jason Rapert, which sounds like a candidate running for second place in the primary.

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