In the previous post about HD-96 candidate and body-armor aficionado John La Tour (R-Fayetteville), I wrote that “[a]s of the end of August, and not counting loans from himself, La Tour’s campaign has raised $13,252.12 in actual contributions since November 2019[; of] that, he has paid himself $6,630, just over 50% of his raised money, in rent.” More specifically, I noted that the rent payments were paid to John La Tour by John La Tour “in random-ass amounts, at random intervals, from his campaign funds.”
As a reminder, these are the “rent” payments that La Tour’s campaign made to John La Tour:
It is an understatement to say that those payments were odd relative to the amount of money La Tour has raised ($13,252.12) and the amount of money he had actually spent on campaign-related items ($411.06). So I figured that some additional digging into this whole “Campaign HQ” was warranted.
The address that the campaign uses on all of its filings is 5371 Old Mill Rd., Springdale, AR 72762, a five-bedroom former bed and breakfast that La Tour bought in 2017 and that is also the address of La Tour’s CPA firm and professional-conduct-rule-violating “law office.” In fact, according to La Tour’s most recent Statement of Financial Interest, he has at least eight businesses registered at that address.1
Readers familiar with the area, however, might have already noticed something a little strange about this being La Tour’s campaign headquarters, however: it is located in District 88 and not in the district that La Tour is running to represent (HD-86).
It is not an issue that has come up many times that I can find, but I certainly cannot recall a candidate having his “Campaign HQ” outside the district in which he is, you know, a candidate. I mean, why would you, considering that the people driving by that location most frequently are not going to be people who could vote for you even if they wanted to? Wouldn’t you want anyone who was driving by and seeing all the signs without your name on them outside the campaign office to also be someone who would see that name on a ballot in a few months?
Otherwise, what is the point of renting a campaign headquarters for a non-staffed campaign in the first place?
Good question. Hmmm…maybe we’re missing something here. Ooh, I know! Let’s drive past that address and see what kind of campaign signage he has up. Maybe that will explain things.
/drives north up Old Mill Rd.
That’s…odd. I didn’t see a single sign that indicated that this building had anything to do with a legislative race. Huh. Maybe I missed it coming from this direction. Let’s try the other way.
/drives south down Old Mill Rd.
Heck, this was was worse. It doesn’t even have a sign showing La Tour’s name in any context.2 This is the place for which La Tour’s campaign has paid La Tour over half the funds his campaign has raised? Jeez, man.
Wait…maybe there’s something on the door that would at least say that this address is the campaign office for John La Tour for State Representative. Let’s go look.
So, no. Not a single thing that actually says that this is La Tour’s campaign headquarters. Not a single line about contacting him here (or anywhere else) for information about his campaign. Not even a reference to what office La Tour is actually running for. Just two sentences on a piece of printer paper, taped to the door and not visible from the street, telling someone (as they stand on a porch in the wrong House district) that “John is entering into ELECTION season” and “VOTE JOHN La TOUR!”
It is glaringly obvious that this is a “Campaign HQ” in name only, making the rent paid to La Tour from the campaign shady at best and straight-up illegal at worst. But, just for grins, let’s do some quick math on this. La Tour launched his campaign in November 2019 during the candidate-filing period, which ran from 11/4 through 11/12. We’ll be generous and give La Tour credit for all of November. The last payment of rent from his campaign was on July 13, 2020. Again, we’ll be generous and give him credit for using that campaign office, such as it is, for all of July. That gives nine months for which the campaign could have been paying rent to La Tour for the office space, and La Tour received $6,650 in rent in that period, for an effective monthly rent of $737 per month.
Now, La Tour purchased the property for $618,000 in 2017. While it is not a perfect science, Zillow pegs the estimated rent, if a person were to rent the whole place, at about $1,500 per month based on the market, location, etc. Let’s again be super generous and call it $2,000 per month if a person were to rent the entire 3,276 square foot house.
Keep in mind that a candidate renting commercial space to his campaign has to do so at fair market value. So, if we assume renting the entire place would be $2,000 per month, then, to justify a $737/month rent, the campaign would have to be renting 36.9% of the building, or about 1,208 square feet.3
Based on all of that, which of these scenarios do you think is more likely: (1) John La Tour has legitimately rented his campaign over 1/3 of the house at 5371 Old Mill Rd. for use as a campaign headquarters, and that space is solely used for campaign purposes, yet he has spent only $400 or so on actual campaign activities emanating from that office in the past nine months, has put up zero signage about his campaign, and (despite being an accountant) has made random “rent” payments in wildly differing amounts; or (2) John La Tour has improperly paid himself $6,630 in “rent” from his campaign despite not actually doing any campaigning and not having an actual “Campaign HQ” by any stretch of the imagination?
Call me crazy, but I’m thinking it’s the second option.
That is not counting “John S. La Tour, Esq., CPA,” which is not an entity registered with the Secretary of State and which he curiously omitted from his SFI.↩
But we do get a Trump flag, branding La Tour as even more of an asshole then we already knew he was.↩
Importantly, we are assuming that the 1,208 square feet is dedicated solely to the use of the campaign; if the campaign were sharing the space with another business (whether La Tour’s actual day job or one of the eight other businesses listed at that address), demonstrating that the rent was “reasonable and appropriate” campaign expenditure would be much more difficult.↩