The Democrat-Gazette ran comprehensively through the quarterly campaign finance filings today, but I’ll highlight a few things deserving of more attention.

  • NATIONALIZING ARKANSAS POLITICS: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Republican candidate for governor, has now raised $12.8 million for the race, a good 70 percent of it from outside Arkansas. 76,000 of her 87,000 donors are from outside Arkansas, Trumpians all, you’d have to guess. But what about this? She’s had no visible campaign; avoided press and, to date, had a scant broadcast presence. So how the heck has she spent $5.5 million so far on the PRIMARY election? Well, in the fourth quarter alone, more than $4442,000 went to direct mail, the outreach that has undoubtedly produced the hundreds of recurring small donations from various donors. Consultant fees, a heavy amount to out-of-state agencies, accounted for another $321,000 $1.3 million in expenditures. Lots of out-of-state air travel and some hotel expenses in Las Vegas, but no payments to Mar a Lago this go-round.
  • INFLATED FUND-RAISING TOTALS: Leslie Rutledge proudly boasted of more than $750,000 in her war chest for lieutenant governor and Tim Griffin is sitting on $1.1 million in his race for attorney general. Both rolled over significant sums from abandoned races for governor into these campaigns. At least one Republican — Sen. Jonathan Dismang — has questioned the legality of rolling over contributions from an abandoned campaign to a new one. 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. If the state Ethics Commission HAS signed off on this end-around by Rutledge and Griffin, it’s another example of how toothless that agency has been. Perhaps the candidates 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 approval for that. It looks shady to me. Dismang tried to clarify the law in the 2021 session. It wasn’t a good session for ethics, what with the defeat of that bill and protection of dark money spending, among other protections for the incumbent Republican class.
  • SPEAKING OF DARK MONEY: I note a report from Chris Carnahan, the former Republican Party official running for the Supreme Court seat held by Justice Robin Wynne. (PLEASE NOTE CORRECTION: I originally said incorrectly that Carnahan was running for another seat on the court.) Carnahan reported the puniest fund-raising of any Supreme Court candidate. $5,800 of the $6,500 he raised came from his family. Carnahan need not worry about money. The Republican opaque money group that has played heavily in Arkansas judicial elections to put Republicans on the nominally non-partisan Supreme Court bench will provide all the supporting advertising he needs. Same for another race, should Gunner DeLay end up with opposition for the seat now held by Justice Karen Baker. He’s a former Republican senator who can count on whatever outside Republican money is necessary. Based on a lack of activity, it seems likely Justice Baker is not running for re-election to that seat in May.
  • AND SPEAKING OF REPUBLICANS: Ethically challenged, Republican-identifying Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, so far unopposed for re-election, raised about $52,000 in the fourth quarter, mostly from lawyers, which is customary in judicial races. The Democrat-Gazette noted a string of poultry industry contributors as well. I’d also note, for one, dough from the chamber of commerce PAC devoted to ending damage lawsuits in Arkansas. I also think she’d have done well to have discouraged the $2,500 contribution from Michael Lamoureux, the former state senator now lobbying with DBH Management. Lamoureux was, while a senator, on the payroll of a “tort reform” organization heavily financed by nursing home owner Michael Morton. Do I need to rehash the Michael Morton/Gilbert Baker/Mike Maggio/Rhonda Wood money shuffles of the 2014 election that put Maggio in jail and his former great fried, Wood, on the witness stand in the bribery trial of her campaign fund-raiser Gilbert Baker? That trial included presentations from prosecutors about illegal straw contributions funneled to Maggio’s campaign. They implicated lobbyist Marvin Parks and Bruce Hawkins of DBH Management, which employed  Baker as a consultant at the time. Parks also worked for the tort reform outfit financed by Morton. Another DBH lobbyist also gave Wood $700, according to the latest report. And this: Wood also scooped up $4,000 from Dustin McDaniel and his related PAC; $4,000 from Casey and Annie Castleberry of Batesville, and  $5,000 from John Goodson, the Texarkana lawyer and his law partner. Pending before the court are critical decisions about who gets a casino permit in Pope County. McDaniel represents the Cherokee Nation, which is currently in the lead in the permit chase; Casey Castleberry represents Gulfside Casino Partnership, appealing a court decision that took the permit from its hands, and Goodson has been reported as supportive of the Choctaw Nation, an unsuccessful early casino permit applicant whose lobbyists are working to overturn the apple cart for the other applicants. $8,000 of Wood’s haul also came from the Hilburn law firm in North Little Rock. Its leader, Sam Hilburn, favors Republican politics.