Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Jason Rapert Fiddles With Campaign-Finance Violations

If you follow the central Arkansas political races at all, you almost certainly heard about Sen. Jason Rapert bustin’ out his fiddle and bible and having an old-fashioned hoedown at the University of Central Arkansas last week with Ricky Skaggs and a handful of other moderately known performers.  It was nearly impossible not to hear about the event, given how Rapert basically spammed Twitter with mentions of the event.

God and Country?! Oh, man! That’s like two of Rapert’s five favorite things. (The other two, of course, being big checks from liquor interests, inveighing against Barack Obama and Muslims, and clubbing baby seals with other baby seals[citation needed]).

One of the things that’s generally not on Rapert’s Julie-Andrews-esque list, however, is closely adhering to state campaign-finance requirements.  He has neither the time nor the inclination to explain himself to a state that rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that he provides, and then questions the manner in which he provides it.  So, I wonder…if a person were to get the documents for Rapert’s Bluegrassapalooza from UCA….

Then again, it’s a new day.  Maybe we should assume the best and give Sen. Rapert the benefit of the doubt and —

Oh, hey, looky there! Jason Rapert’s 10-day pre-election finance report was posted yesterday!  I mean, we might as well go ahead and look at this one, since it’s just sitting there, begging to be examined.

Last things first, we see a few expenditures related to the Skaggtastical Mystery Tour (which might have actually been called “Stand Up America”):

What we don’t see, however, is the $1,780 in campaign funds that Jason Rapert for State Senate paid to UCA for the use of the Reynolds Performance Hall.

Likewise, the ten-day report says nothing about the money that the campaign earned from the concert. However, Rapert’s agreement with UCA was that Jason Rapert for State Senate would receive the net profit on the ticket sales for the event, and a ticket-sales report from October 16 (five days before the event) shows:

That works out to just about $15/ticket. According to UCA:

We printed 609 tickets for the event but only took 334 tickets at the door. With musicians and Jason’s staff I felt like we had around 380 in attendance.

So…even going with the low number and extrapolating the final gross based on the $15 average, that’s still $5,010 gross. The contract called for UCA to keep a $500 setup fee and $1.50 per ticket, plus there would be an additional $3 per ticket kept by the ticketing agent if the tickets were ordered online. Let’s be super generous and assume that all 334 tickets were purchased online, for a total of $1,503 in fees that were kept out. That, plus the $500 setup fee, equals $2,003 that would be subtracted from the gross, leaving $3,007 net that was paid to Jason Rapert for State Senate. Yet his campaign reported no money from the show.

Hmm. Curious. Though — this is just speculation — but maybe the reason the campaign didn’t report the expenditure is because of the can of worms that doing so would open for them. Let’s look into that a bit, just for shiggles.

Rapert’s campaign got Skaggy wit it in connection with the Family Research Council’s PAC, FRC Action. FRC Action is, as you might expect, a 501(c)(4) non-profit.

While the rules for a 501(c)(4) coordinating with a campaign at the state level are somewhat amorphous,the general rule for such non-profits is that their activities should not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.[foot]Some political activity is allowed, but those expenditures are taxable under 527(f), which I footnote just for the CPAs in the crowd.[/foot]

At the event, Rapert, R. Skaggz, and the rest were exceedingly careful not to just stand up and crow “VOTE RAPERT OR FACE THE WRATH OF AN ANGRY JESUS WITH A CONCEALED CARRY PERMIT!”

Instead, we got statements like this:

That’s some pretty careful wording.  Why, it’s almost as if the PAC realized that outright advocacy here could be a problem for them.  You wouldn’t want this to come off as, say, a campaign event for Rapert, right?

Except, by definition, it has to be a campaign event.  It was paid for with campaign funds, and the Arkansas Ethics Commission explains to all would-be candidates that, broadly speaking, campaign funds must be spent on activities that are in furtherance of the candidacy.

Of course, leaving aside the issues for the PAC, it is clear that this was a campaign event (specifically, a fundraiser). Rapert listed the signs and event art and the like as campaign expenditures for “campaign event,” after all.  But then we’ve got ourselves another problem.  Two other problems, in fact.

First, it is unclear how this kind of ticketed event would be acceptable as a fundraiser under Arkansas’s campaign-finance laws.  The rules specifically require that, where the fundraiser is a ticketed event, the money must be paid directly to the candidate or his campaign committee.  Using UCA as a pass-through is just all sorts of inappropriate on a number of levels, not the least of which is that, under this arrangement, Jason Rapert for State Senate receives a lump amount from UCA, and there is no accounting for each person who bought a ticket or tickets.  But UCA as an entity certainly should be donating money to Rapert’s campaign, and Rapert is required to list all individual donors who give $50 or more in this race.

Secondly, and perhaps a little more esoteric in the grand scheme of things, as a campaign event, Rapert is going to have to account for the appearance of Ricky Skaggs and the other performers.  Done correctly, this would mean that Rapert’s campaign paid Skaggs, et al., to come be part of his fundraiser.  Except there’s no listed expenditure showing that arrangement.  Any other scenario is almost certainly improper from Rapert’s end.  If Skaggs and the rest “donated” their appearance, Rapert still has to account for the in-kind, non-monetary contribution, which is measured as the fair market value of the contribution.  As luck would have it, Ricky Skaggs is paying another show at UCA in January, and he’s charging the school $25,000 for that appearance. Skaggs’ minimum fee for U.S. dates is generally between $7,000 and $30,000.[foot]Plus, I assume Barbara Fairchild has a retail value of at least $74.99![/foot]  It would be some pretty nifty (read: false) math to find a way to make Skaggs’ appearance at Rapert’s Jesus Jamboree have a fair market value of less than $2,000.01.

The same analysis would also apply if FRC Action paid for Skaggs and the rest to appear at Rapert’s campaign event.  A candidate cannot generally get around campaign-finance requirements and restrictions by having a 501(c)(4) jump in and pay for things.  So, to whatever extent FRC Action footed some of the bill for the performers, FRC Action should be listed as a non-monetary contribution to Jason Rapert for State Senate.  They aren’t.


As one final aside, my favorite part of the whole thing might be the delusion buried in the documents. The rental contract says that Rapert expected 1,175 people for his concert.  There were 380. Lulz.

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