Documents obtained from the Faulkner County Clerk’s office show both county sheriff’s candidates have reported contributions that do not line up with rules laid out by the Arkansas Ethics Commission.
Sheriff’s Maj. Andy Shock-R, has reported itemized campaign expenditures designated as donations to local political campaigns, which is not a permitted use of campaign funds according to the commission’s rules on campaign finance and disclosure.
In an example provided by the commission’s director, Graham Sloan, the only instance a candidate could use campaign funds to contribute to another candidate’s race would be if the candidate purchased a ticket to the other candidate’s fundraiser, essentially “buying access to their crowd” to further the candidate’s own campaign, but not support the other’s.
Shock has reported donations to Jack Sotallaro’s campaign for Circuit Clerk and Alderman Mark Vaught’s campaign for County Clerk.
He also has reported donations to local charities or non-profit organizations, which is a permitted use of campaign funds only after an election has closed.
The charity should be a 501c3 organization according to the commission’s rules.
Shock also reported a contribution made to his campaign from a fund designated the Karl Byrd for Sheriff campaign. Sheriff Byrd confirmed he made the contribution, but that he did not know using what the commission calls “carryover funds” left over from a past campaign in a future campaign that was not his own was not a permissible use.
Sloan said there are five permitted uses for carryover funds, “and none of them are making a contribution to a candidate.”
Carryover funds are to be paid to a political party caucus, to a non-profit organization that is tax exempt, to first or second class cities and incorporated towns, for office holder expenses if the office is won, or they may be used in a future campaign for the person the funds were originally raised for.
“There’s a general rule that you can’t use campaign funds to contribute to another candidate. There could be a circumstance to use campaign funds to buy a ticket to a current campaign event that benefits yourself,” Sloan said.
Shock said Byrd corrected the mistake by replacing the contribution to the campaign with a contribution from his personal bank account.
“I was told (donating to charities) was a legitimate use, and everything I’ve donated to has been a worthy cause. It’s my fault … but you can see where my heart is,” Shock said. “I could have spent the money on more signs.”
Shock said he did not know using campaign funds to contribute to other campaigns was not a permitted use of campaign funds.
“We’d never intentionally do anything that’s prohibited,” Shock said.
Tommy Earnhart-D, has reported more than $6,000 in campaign contributions under the report’s contributor heading that are designed as originating from various fundraisers.
About $600 of the fundraiser money is attributed to individuals whose names are listed and a business, but addresses aren’t provided.
Sloan said Thursday “You wouldn’t report the net proceeds of a fundraising event” on a campaign contribution and expenditure report.
“If someone gives more than $50, you must itemize it,” Sloan said.
Earnhart said it was his understanding fundraiser contributions could be reported as his assistant reported them, under one heading.
Earnhart said his wife’s health and an approaching deadline were the reasons he did not review the recent report thoroughly.
“There was no intent to mislead anyone, and it is my intent to correct it,” he said.
Sloan said it is not public information if a citizen files an ethics complaint against a candidate.
“Anyone could file a complaint and the commission will conduct an investigation. Any citizen who thinks there’s a violation can file a citizen complaint and we’re duty bound to conduct an investigation, but we’re required to keep pending violations confidential. We can’t comment on that,” Sloan said.
The commission puts on six campaign finance training sessions in the state with every election cycle. There are five commissioners on staff who are employed to answer questions from candidates or political committees, Sloan said.
The commission’s rules on campaign finance and disclosure electronic document is 43 pages long.
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