One of the weird side effects to the changes in ethics and campaign-finance laws over the past few years has been that contributions from political action committees have taken the place of direct contributions from businesses.1 This isn’t ideal, but–at least in theory–PACs provide more transparency on where the money comes from than a business entity does.
Arkansas law also puts registration requirements on PACs, and it allows candidates to accept contributions only from “approved political action committees.”2 What is an “approved political action committee,” you ask? It is
any person that:
(i) Receives contributions from one (1) or more persons in order to make contributions to candidates, ballot question committees, legislative question committees, political parties, county political party committees, or other political action committees;
(ii) Does not accept any contribution or cumulative contributions in excess of five thousand dollars ($5,000) from any person in any calendar year; and
(iii) Registers pursuant to § 7-6-215 prior to making contributions.
That last condition is important. For a PAC to be “approved,” it has to register with the Secretary of State’s Office before it makes any contributions. Further, Arkansas law says that it is illegal for a candidate to accept a contribution from an unapproved political action committee.3
Which brings us to Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
According to her Campaign Contribution & Expenditure (CC&E) reports, Rutledge received a $2,700 contribution from “Republican Attorneys General Association Arkansas PAC” on May 21, 2018.
Thing is, that PAC did not register with the Arkansas Secretary of State until May 29, 2018.
That May 21 contribution was, therefore, illegal on its face under Arkansas Code Annotated 7-6-203(a)(1)(B). Accordingly, a complaint about that contribution was filed this morning with the Arkansas Ethics Commission.
“Wait,” you might say if you are the type of person who looks for excuses for Leslie Rutledge, “how was she to know that the PAC was not properly registered?” To which I would say, first, the law puts an affirmative duty on her (and all candidates) to ensure that contributions received are legal; if a candidate could collect thousands in illegal contributions and avoid penalty merely by professing ignorance of the law,4 the limits and laws would become meaningless.
Second, Rutledge is closely tied to the Republican Attorneys General Association. So closely, in fact, that she is the current chairperson of the organization. She had all the ability in the world to make sure that the RAGA-Arkansas PAC was properly set up before it contributed money to her, and she had more ability than anyone else, once the money was received, to make sure that it was a legal contribution.
After all, it’s not like RAGA-Arkansas PAC has been so busy that it would be hard to locate a single contribution or expenditure. The PAC has only received a single contribution: $2,700 from Republican Attorneys General Association (of which, again, Leslie Rutledge is the chairperson) on May 21, 2018. It has only made one expenditure: $2,700 to Leslie Rutledge on May 21, 2018.
In short, you have a PAC contributing $2,700 from Rutledge the RAGA chairperson to Rutledge the AG candidate.
That would have been fine, if pointless and slightly shady, had the law been followed and had the PAC been registered on May 21 or earlier. Because it wasn’t, however, it crosses the line from looking bad to actually being illegal.