Officials for the Conservative Arkansas Political Action Committee have agreed to pay a $200 fine and receive a public letter of caution from the Arkansas Ethics Commission in a settlement of a complaint filed by a Farmington man against the group.
Graham Sloan, director of the Ethics Commission, informed the five-member commission on Friday about the settlement of the ethics complaint filed by Jeff Oland of Farmington against Conservative Arkansas.
"We should have filed as an [independent expenditure committee] and not as a PAC," said Conservative Arkansas Executive Director Patsy Wooton of Springdale.
Arkansas Code Annotated 7-6-201 defines a political action committee as one that receives contributions from at least one person in order to make contributions to candidates, ballot question committees, legislative question committees, political parties, county political party committees or other political action committees.
The same statute says the funds spent by independent expenditure committees are not contributions but are spent to advocate the election or defeat of a candidate. Also, the committees do not work with a candidate in making its expenditures. Oland argued that Conservative Arkansas had made independent expenditures.
"It was our mistake," she said Friday. "We didn't know what we didn't know."
Wooton said she; the group's treasurer, Donna Brashears of Bella Vista; and the group's administrator, Jana Della Rosa of Rogers, split the cost of the $200 fine. Oland's complaint also was filed against the group's former treasurer, Edge Nowlin. Della Rosa is a Republican state representative.
Wooton said she believes Oland filed the ethics complaint against Conservative Arkansas in February because Della Rosa was being challenged by two Republican foes in the March 1 primary. Della Rosa defeated former Rep. Randy Alexander, R-Rogers, and Springdale educator Jana Starr in the primary election.
Oland couldn't be reached for comment by email on Friday regarding the settlement. Della Rosa also couldn't be reached by telephone.
After he filed the complaint in February, Oland said, "This group and particularly one of their officers, state Rep. Jana Della Rosa, has recently lamented the 'dark money' in politics. ... Upon close review of their activity, it appears the Conservative Arkansas PAC is willing to serve as a slush fund or clearinghouse for large unreported contributions to candidates."
In a letter dated June 13 to Della Rosa, Wooton, Brashears and Nowlin, Sloan said they've agreed in the settlement with the commission finding that they unintentionally violated Arkansas Code Annotated 7-6-220 and 7-6-227 by failing to register as an independent expenditure committee and disclose contributions it received and expenditures it made related to being that type of committee.
Conservative Arkansas' contributions "potentially" included $7,500 from Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, $5,000 from Arnold Hollingsworth, and $5,000 from Randell Shelton, Sloan wrote in his letter.
The political action committee's independent expenditures included:
• Cumulative amounts of $4,250.79 paid to Target Direct on or about May 18, 2012, in connection with sending a mailer in support of Springdale Republican Jon Woods' successful state Senate campaign.
• $4,941 paid to Diamond State Consulting on or about Sept. 30, 2014, for radio advertising in the Senate race between then-Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, and current Sen. Scott Flippo, R-Mountain Home.
• $6,830 paid to Diamond State Consulting and Zim Creative on or about Nov. 3, 2014, to pay for mailers advocating against candidates for various Fayetteville alderman positions, including in Joshua Crawford's race and Paul Phaneuf's race, according to Sloan's letter.
"Evidence gathered during the course of the investigation reflected that the officers of Conservative Arkansas ... at the relevant times were unaware [of] the laws governing Independent Expenditures and [independent expenditure committees] in Arkansas, including committee registration and reporting requirements," Sloan said in his letter.
"The evidence reflected that the expenditures in question were not contributions to candidates because there was no coordination between the campaigns and the candidates," Sloan wrote.
"The evidence gathered further indicated that the officers mistakenly believed that the Federal Election Commission was the governing agency for their PAC activity and that they called the FEC several times for guidance and received incorrect advice," according to Sloan's letter.
"There was no evidence that [Conservative Arkansas] intentionally failed to register and report as an [independent expenditure committee]," Sloan said.
"Furthermore, there was no evidence gathered that showed the officers of [Conservative Arkansas] at the relevant times failed to report expenditures, but that they were reported in the incorrect manner and on behalf of the incorrect legal entity," Sloan's letter said.
Oland also filed ethics complaints against Woods and Burris. Sloan said the commission dismissed those complaints last month.
Metro on 06/18/2016