Leslie Rutledge Faces Probable-Cause Hearing at Ethics Commission on Friday

81

If you had been checking my mail last week, that would have been really strange and questionable behavior on your part. However, you would have picked a good week to commit your little federal crime, as you would have been the first to see a letter from the Arkansas Ethics Commission, informing me[foot]And you, in this mail-opening scenario[/foot] that a probable-cause hearing on my ethics complaint against Leslie Rutledge was scheduled for January 23, 2015, at 9:00am.

Per the letter:

When this case comes before the Commission at the January 23rd meeting, the Commission will be called upon to determine whether or not probable cause exists for finding that the Respondent violated:

(A) Ark. Code Ann. 7-6-203(a)(2)(A) by accepting campaign contributions in excess of two thousand dollars ($2,000) per election per person, and/or Ark. Code Ann. 7-6-207(b)(1)(D) by failing to disclose statutorily-required information concerning the receipt of nonmoney contributions, all in connection with the production and broadcasting of television advertising purchased by RAGA which exceeded $300,000; and

(B) Ark. Code Ann. 7-6-203(e)(1) by accepting a contribution from a prohibited political action committee in connection with the receipt of nonmoney contributions concerning the production and broadcasting of television advertising by RAGA which exceeded $300,000.

As you might recall, at the time the ads became an issue, Rutledge admitted that they were coordinated with RAGA, but added that the coordination was done “legally.”  Her assertion of the legality of the coordination was based on an Ethics Commission opinion that was not relevant to this situation. Her assertion also failed to account for the fact that RAGA had not registered as an independent-expenditure committee prior to making the ad buys on Rutledge’s behalf and that RAGA had failed to file required fundraising disclosures.

Max has correctly noted that the outcome of this complaint has implications that reach well beyond this particular case.  If the Ethics Commission does not find that Rutledge’s actions here violated campaign-finance rules:

Every Super PAC, 501c4 and silver spooner like Jackson T. Stephens Jr. will be buying TV ads featuring the candidate of their choice spouting the identical campaign message they spout in their own advertising. But they will be unfettered by disclosure and contribution limits.

It will be the end of accountability in Arkansas election campaigns.

So…yeah.  Kind of a big deal.  Friday should definitely be interesting, but it almost certainly won’t be the end of this story. Let’s just hope it marks the beginning of the end of this kind of flagrant violation of campaign-finance rules.