Year In Review: Postscripts to Five BHR Stories from 2014

A year ago today, I was sitting at Shotgun Dan’s on West Markham when friends started emailing and texting to tell me that I’d been mentioned in the New York Times’ coverage of then-Lt. Gov. Mark Darr. At the time, Darr was adamant that he was not going to resign, despite calls from nearly everyone that he should. Of course, Darr’s statements turned out to be total b.s.[foot]A shocking development, given his track record of honesty and fair dealing in general.[/foot], and he resigned just a month later.

With that in mind, today seems like as good a time as any to look back at some of the bigger BHR stories of the past 12 months and look at what happened afterward. And, in the spirit of the day, we’ll do it as a countdown.  Gimmicky, you say?  Well, um… Oh, look, the list is starting!

Happy New Year, everyone.

Advertisement

#5. Leslie Rutledge Credits Herself, Not Red Tide, for Victory.

Late September and early October were not particularly kind to Leslie Rutledge. First, there was the story about her failure to understand something as basic and straightforward as voting where one is registered to vote and transferring registrations properly when one moves. Then came the release of her DHS emails, in which she passed along a story that was equal parts ham-fisted, ignorant, and racist. Summarizing her response to the various stories, we wrote:

There’s that old saying that character is what you do when no one is looking.  Based on what we see when we look at Leslie Rutledge — and how she reacts to an ounce of self-reflection — one shudders at the thought of what she might do if she thought no one was paying attention.

I can only hope that, unlike Rutledge, Arkansans generally will demonstrate the kind of good judgment that doesn’t reward deceit, ignorance, and faux martyrdom with a constitutional office.

Sadly, my hope was misplaced; Rutledge, like every Republican candidate for constitutional office, won her race in November.

A funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box, however. While most of the Republican constitutional candidates — even complete turds who have no business holding elected office (by which I mean Mark Martin and Dennis Milligan) — won by roughly 20 or more points, Rutledge won by a comparatively tiny 8.4 points. Not that you would have known it from Rutledge’s victory speech, in which she claimed that “they picked on the wrong little lady.”

Even ignoring the bizarrely demeaning and sexist conceit of referring to yourself as a “little lady” when you just won statewide office, how delusional does someone have to be to act like it was their own campaign strategy and position on issues, rather than a statewide Republican sweep, that allowed them to win despite the kind of baggage that would have torpedoed a candidacy in a normal year?

(Note: that’s rhetorical. We know how delusional Leslie Rutledge is.)

#4. Medicaid Expansion Bids Played Out Exactly As Predicted.

Back in February, we wrote a post, complete with random Lonesome Dove references, about how the Medicaid expansion under the Private Option (“Beebecare”) appeared to be rigged so that HP would definitely get the contract. Discussing the disqualification of CNSI from the bid consideration, we wrote:

Yep, if you wanted to game the system and more or less ensure that HP would get the MMIS contract, the only company that you have to keep out of the competition is CNSI.  But, given that they are a major player in these state-by-state MMIS implementations, you have to let them bid, especially after you practically begged them to help come up with the initial RFP.

So you let them bid, then you find the first hiccup, no matter how small, and use it to boot them from the whole process.  That way, your preferred vendor is almost certain to win, and the only losers are an out-of-state company and anyone who might have faith in the fairness of the procurement process.

Sure enough, HP Enterprise Services was subsequently awarded the contract, valued at roughly $203M. The contract was actually awarded to HP back in May, though there was almost no news coverage of that fact.  Oh, sure, HP issued a press release in April about receiving Colorado’s contract and in July about getting the Delaware contract, but they said nothing about the Arkansas contract.  Strange. I’m sure the oversight and lack of coverage was totally coincidentally and not in any way due to the fact that people were preemptively calling shenanigans on the process, though.

#3. Log Cabin Democrat Eschews Journalism; Ignorantly Carries Water for Rapert.

In October, following his Skaggs-centric campaign event, we wrote about how Sen. Jason Rapert’s fiddlepalooza fundraiser had led to some pretty clear campaign-finance violations. Most notably, addressing Rapert’s failure to report the expenditures and income, we stated:

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.

In response, the Conway Log Cabin Democrat went full Rapert fanboy, decided that actual journalism was for suckers, and responded with this mind-numbingly absurd article.  While it’s somewhat after the fact at this point, let’s nevertheless go ahead and respond in the most pedantic way possible — piece by piece — just to clear up any misunderstandings that might still exist at the LCD.

Rapert not in violation of campaign finance rules

Well…that’s a rather bold way to start an article, both because it is poor journalism and because it is demonstrably incorrect.

Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow), representing District 35, did not violate campaign finance rules by not reporting costs in his 10-day pre-election finance report from the “Stand Up America: Faith, Family & Freedom” event his Jason Rapert for Senate campaign recently hosted.

Is this an editorial or a news story?  If it’s the latter (which is what it purports to be), here’s another example of piss-poor journalism.  It’s also a gross over-simplification of the assertions made in the original BHR post, since the cost of the rental was only part of the story.

While the “Stand Up America” event occurred during the reporting period for the 10-day pre-election report filed Oct. 28, which includes contributions and expenditures from Oct. 1-25, the University of Central Arkansas’ invoice of the event wasn’t created until Tuesday.

Oh, really?  It wasn’t?  Says who?  Here’s some free advice: good journalism would dictate that you attribute an assertion like “the University of Central Arkansas’ invoice of the event wasn’t created until Tuesday” to someone (or at least to “documents received pursuant to a FOIA request” or something like that).  After all, that is not something that the LCD reporter could know on his own, and the source of that assertion is pretty important, since this entire article reads like the author is writing a press release for the Rapert campaign.

Also, that’s an odd assertion to make generally, because, if you look at the contract, which was signed on October 20, you would see this:

Screenshot 2014-11-01 12.05.02

So, at the time the contract was sent to Jason Rapert — and certainly at the time that he signed it on October 20 — there was already an invoice created, which was Invoice # 506141 and is listed right there above the payment deadline.  Was Rapert required to pay that invoice prior to submitting his 10-day report?  No.  But claiming that the invoice didn’t exist until Tuesday is false.  That’s the type of thing that might be worth noting or exploring or explaining, were a journalist trying to write an unbiased article.

UCA’s Reynolds Performance Hall was the host for Rapert’s “Stand Up America” at 7 p.m. Oct. 21, which included a performance by Ricky Skaggs and a keynote address from Josh Duggar, executive director of Family Research Council (FRC) Action.

OK.  That might have been good context before delving into the alleged date of the invoice, but whatever.

The Blue Hog Report published an article Wednesday detailing alleged behavior the left-leaning blog said “fiddles with campaign finance violations.”

On the blog’s Facebook page, Blue Hog states that it promotes “good government, transparency, and occasional mass hysteria.”

I did. And that behavior included a whole lot more than just the payment to UCA for Reynolds, but, hey, why actually address substance when you can say “left-leaning” and quote the Facebook description of the page as if it is remotely relevant to the point of your article?

An invoice from Reynolds dated Tuesday bills Jason Rapert for Senate in the amount of $1,780 – $580 for direct costs and $1,200 for rental costs.

Responding to the article, Ted Thomas, spokesperson and consultant for Rapert’s campaign, said “it should be perfectly and obviously clear” why the event wasn’t included in the 10-day pre-election report.

“How can you pay a bill when you don’t have it,” he added.

Rapert directed that all questions regarding the allegation go to Thomas for comment.

Ted Thomas raises an interesting philosophical question, I suppose, but it’s not a question that is particularly relevant in this context. In fact, if the reporter on this story had been interested in anything beyond pushing the Rapert campaign’s narrative, he might have taken the 30 seconds necessary to do a little research into campaign-finance laws.

Specifically, he could have quickly located this guide to candidates that is published by the Ethics Commission each cycle. In that handbook, right there on page 85, he would have seen that Rapert’s report was supposed to contain, among other things, “the expenditures made during the filing periods, and the cumulative amount of these totals for the entire election cycle.” Then, just a little further down, on page 87, he might have seen:

Screenshot 2014-11-02 09.02.12

Which is to say, an “expenditure” for purposes of Rapert’s 10-day report, includes a “contract, promise, or agreement to make an expenditure.”  He had a contract with UCA to pay the rental amount no later than October 31, and he signed that contract on October 20 (i.e., prior to the deadline for the 10-day report).  By law, that expenditure already existed, independent of what day the invoice was actually sent to Rapert’s camp, Mr. Thomas’s explanation is either ignorant or intentionally misleading, and the reporter’s failing to educate himself as to this definition of expenditure and to report this to his readers is wholly unacceptable.

[***]

As for the possible compensation of event performers, Charlotte Scott, manager for Skaggs, and Alice Chao, media coordinator for the FRC, said their clients were not paid for their appearance at Rapert’s event.

The Log Cabin Democrat attempted to contact Barbara Fairchild’s media spokesperson, her husband Roy Morris, on Friday before deadline for a comment on compensation for her appearance in Reynolds.

Morris performed with Fairchild in the university’s performance hall that night.

Thomas said none of the performers, including Fairchild, were compensated.

OK. Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that none of the performers were paid, whether by Rapert’s campaign or by FRC Action. In that instance, it is plausible, though not guaranteed, that the performances would be considered volunteer services and would not be subject to being considered in-kind contributions. Whether volunteer services need to be reported is a question of fact for the Ethics Commission, generally speaking. But, whatever, let’s take that part at face value and focus on how the article deals with the other issues raised in the original post.

Rapert’s spokesperson added that the total ticket sales report has not been finalized.

Oh, his spokesperson said that? And we’re going with that answer, rather than asking UCA about it? That seems dubious, at least from anyone who wants someone to believe that he’s actually a journalist and not a mouthpiece for Rapert.

That’s doubly true where, as here, the assertion is pretty dumb on its face. The number of tickets sold is absolutely known, because we’re only talking about a few hundred tickets total. It’s not like we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of tickets that need to be account for. Plus — and this is important — the UCA ticket-sales system updates in real time. In fact, the article goes on to note:

In UCA’s contract with Jason Rapert for Senate, Reynolds charged $500 for event setup and $1.50 for each ticket sold.

An additional $3 was charged for online tickets to go to the Reynolds ticketing agent.

Tickets were sold for between $20 and $25 online at uca.edu/reynolds and at the Reynolds box office on UCA’s campus.

We have the total number of tickets sold, the amount each ticket was sold for, the amount that UCA got for each ticket, and the flat-fee amount that came off the top of the ticket sales. What was possibly left to finalize?  (Hint: nothing. Nothing at all.)

So, despite the protestations of Rapert’s campaign spokesman — who, let’s be honest, has no incentive to not lie in this context — the amount due to Rapert’s campaign from UCA[foot]Yes, I think it’s a huge issue that UCA made money from ticket sales to a political event. Yes, I think it’s something worth looking into over the next few month.[/foot] was known at the time that the 10-day pre-election report was filed.

Perhaps the strangest thing about the LCD’s journalistic death rattle is that the story basically ends here. Despite an obvious attempt to explain away the issues raised in our original post, the LCD story completely ignored the much larger issue: that there is simply no way that the ticket sales, as handled here, could possibly comply with the per-person-reporting requirements of Arkansas’s campaign-finance laws. So, rather than address that, the LCD opted for getting a couple examples of campaign-finance ignorance from Rapert’s spokesperson, drew some of their own false conclusions, and pretended like the finished product wasn’t something to be embarrassed about.

#2. Fort Smith PD Stops Getting Naked, Doubles Down On Impotent Leadership.

One of the stranger stories from the past year was the revelation that, in making misdemeanor prostitution arrests, the Fort Smith Police Department Street Crimes Unit, under the supervision of Sgt. Chris Harris, had chosen to get naked, digitally penetrate suspected prostitutes, and get impromptu handjobs, all prior to making an arrest.  Looking at the overall numbers, we wrote:

From November 1, 2011, through October 1, 2013, there were exactly zero arrests where the detective got naked.  Zero.  There was one where a detective got down to his underwear, but, when the suspected prostitute began to move to take those underwear off, he called in the arrest team.  In that same span, there were (arguably) two arrests where the detective had any sort of contact with the suspected prostitute, and, both times, it was her breasts and was minimal at worst — in one, she exposed a breast and asked the detective to touch it to prove he wasn’t law enforcement, so he brushed it with his hand (per the report); in the other, she was topless and pushed her breasts toward the detective’s face before he called in the arrest team.

From October 1, 2013, to present, however?  Let’s just say that Sgt. Harris brought change.  Dirty, dirty change.

Now, the FSPD quickly claimed to anyone who would listen that Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue had approved this arrest technique.  This was a lie.  Thing is, they seemed to know it was a lie, even as they were saying it; in the two months following our first reporting on the community-handjob-oriented strategy, the FSPD made only seven prostitution arrests.

How many of those arrests involved an officer getting naked?  None.  How many involved gratuitous sexual contact by an officer?  None. What are the odds that, if the ol’ rub-and-tug was a legitimate investigative technique, beneficial to the people of Fort Smith, the PD abandon it as soon as someone pointed it out? Also none.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The rest…

Actually…let’s wait. Let’s save the story about how the FSPD got help from Daily & Woods in attempting to violate federal law. That will make for a fun tale on a different day.

#1. Leslie Rutledge Still Has Some Questions to Answer.

Perhaps it’s a sign of how terrible of a candidate Leslie Rutledge really was that she wound up on this list twice. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what happened. In addition to the stuff mentioned already, the other big story was our reporting on the improper coordination between Rutledge and a 527.

Point being, even under a best-case scenario in which her coordination with RAGA was not improper on its face due to RAGA being a 527, Rutledge’s coordination with them for these ads is still in violation of campaign finance laws. Under a more realistic scenario, not only is her coordination with RAGA improper, but her reliance on the 2006 Ethics opinion shows that she does not understand the very basic difference between a 501(c)(4) and a 527 or the even-more-basic difference between the hypothetical ads in that opinion and an ad that required her to sit down and be filmed for the ad’s actual footage.

Subsequent to our filing of an Ethics Commission complaint about this coordination, we received notice that the Commission had opened an investigation into the coordinated expenditure. That investigation is still pending, though we have reason to believe that something about complaint will be on the Commission’s agenda in January.  (This isn’t confirmed, mind you; we’re merely speculating based on the timeframe.)

As Max has noted, the outcome of this Ethics Commission investigation is a big deal, not so much for Rutledge (who will probably, at worst, get slapped with a relatively small fine), but for future campaigns.  If the Commission decides that this coordination was not improper, then Katie bar the door; there will literally be nothing to stop future candidates from coordinating with 527s and getting hundreds of thousands in ad buys outside of their own campaign fundraising.

But, hey…what’s an additional two or three hundred grand among friends, right?

Advertisement