There was an excellent story in the Democrat-Gazette today by Seth Blomeley about state Rep. Robbie Wills’ use of his 2008 re-election campaign account (he’s unopposed), beginning midway through 2007, on expenditures in his race to be House speaker. He says it’s legal to give gifts to other legislators, spend money to return from vacation outings, etc.
Maybe it’s legal.
But it stinks. If the law allows this kind of boodling, the law is an ass. Campaign funds should be legally only for election expenses. Other than filing fees and expenses incurred for election before he knew he’d be unopposed, Wills shouldn’t have leeway to spend unlimited amounts during his unopposed election year on his speaker’s race simply because he declares it enhances his electability as representative. How much help does an unopposed candidate need?
I’d note that the campaign finance law, which is already too lenient in other respects, allows public officials to retain excess campaign funds after an election only up to the limit of the official’s salary. In that case, Wills would be limited after the election is over to convertomh $15,000 or so to personal use in future campaigns. He’s spent in excess of that on his personally aggrandizing quest to be speaker. It is essentially a personal expenditure. It is by no fair interpretation an election expenditure.
Again: What’s needed is a popular initiative to close loopholes like these in Arkansas law. With the leader of the House as a guide, every unopposed member of the legislature (most of them) can feel free to spend freely of unneeded campaign funds and claim anything they spend that enhances their stature is, effectively, enhancing their electablity, opponent or no.
My wished-for initiative also would end the provision for use of any excess campaign funds for future races and contributions to charitable causes other than refund to contributors. It should also end gift-giving to lawmakers, period, including of the sort Wills engaged in. It should end lobbyist wining and dining.
None of this is likely to happen. The cause needs a politically potent champion. Gov. Mike Beebe won’t champion this one. He needs and works well with the lobby. He won’t end the petty graft on which so many of them depend. And now the leader of the House has taken a page from the lobbyists’ payola handbook. Monkey see, monkey do.
PS: Is this a case for gadfly Jim Parsons? Using campaign money to facilitate ease of travel sure seems a far cry from a legitimate campaign expense. I’m reminded that the Ethics Commission wrote up former Gov. Mike Huckabee for using a handful of copy paper for a campaign event. That’s worse than this?