State PACs cite confusion over e-filing

Some unnecessarily submit exemption affidavits for online campaign reports

Officials representing several political action committees, including one for the cable television industry, said that because they were confused about the effective date of a new law requiring campaign-finance reports to be filed in electronic form, they signed affidavits to declare they don't have access to the technology to meet the requirement.

Meanwhile, five state elected officials filed their reports on paper without filing the affidavit required by state law to show why they aren't filing electronically. A few of them said they didn't file the affidavits partly out of confusion. These five candidates are in addition to six others who did sign the exemption affidavits.

Two new laws address electronic filing of the reports.

The law that requires political action committees as well as independent expenditure committees and exploratory committees to file campaign-finance reports in electronic form with limited exceptions becomes effective Jan. 1. The law is Act 616 of 2017, sponsored by Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock. The reports are filed with the secretary of state's office.

A separate law that requires candidates for state offices to file reports electronically with limited exceptions went into effect Oct. 1. That law is Act 318 of 2017, sponsored by Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers. Candidates previously could file campaign-finance reports either in paper form or electronic form.

The new filing system is designed to allow candidates and committees to report who donates to them in a format that's easily searchable. Instead of downloading copies of paper financial reports, searchers will be able to find the total amount given by specific donors across different candidates and races.

So far, 140 political action committees are registered to file electronically and 105 PACS have filed reports this way, said Chris Powell, a spokesman for Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin.

'JUST A MISUNDERSTANDING'

Joe Molinaro, executive director of the Arkansas Cable Telecommunications Association, signed an affidavit a few weeks ago that said the association's political action committee doesn't have access to the technology needed to submit its campaign-finance reports electronically.

"Submitting reports in electronic form would constitute a hardship to this PAC; and This PAC agrees to file all other reports in paper form for the duration of the reporting cycle," Molinaro affirmed in his signed affidavit dated Oct. 10.

The association -- established in 1972 to serve as the voice of the cable industry in Arkansas -- consists of members Cable One, Comcast, Conway Corp., Suddenlink, One Wave Communications, Cox and Vyve Broadband. The companies provide roughly 80 percent of the services to cable subscribers in Arkansas, according to its website.

Asked why his group doesn't have access to the technology, Molinaro said last week, "It was just a misunderstanding of how the process works."

He said he mistakenly thought he couldn't file the association's PAC report in paper form for the last quarter that was due in the secretary of state's office on Oct. 16 without signing that affidavit. He said he later learned that he didn't need the affidavit.

So far, more representatives of political action committees than candidates have filed affidavits to allow them to file paper reports.

Beyond Molinaro of the Arkansas Cable Telecommunications PAC, affidavits have been submitted by officials for Dealers Interested in Government PAC; Arkansas Pest Management Association PAC; Arkansas Asphalt Pavement Association PAC; Make It Conservative PAC; and Mountain Home Professional Firefighters PAC, according to records in the secretary of state's office.

The records also show affidavits from PACs for CVS Health; Eli Lilly and Co.; Federal Express Corp.; Glaxo Smith Kline; Merck and Co. Employees; Kroger Co.; and Union Pacific Corp. Fund for Effective Government.

Asked why more PACs than candidates have filed the affidavits, Powell said, "PACs are not required to file online until January.

"Some may have been confused and filed affidavits for this quarter's report since they had not yet registered on the new system," he said.

Greg Kirkpatrick, president of the Arkansas Automobile Dealers Association, said a staff member "literally hand-delivered everything and gave all the paperwork" for Dealers Interested in Government PAC to the secretary of state's office.

"Sometimes, it's better to be a bit overcautious," he said. He said the PAC plans to file its reports in electronic form in the future.

Anne Fuller, owner of Best Association Management that works for the Arkansas Pest Management Association and Arkansas Asphalt Pavement Association PACs, said her company didn't have all the required information from the two PACS to file electronically yet.

"We are switching over from paper to electronic [filing]," she said.

Jeanne Parr, a manager for the Eli Lilly and Co. PAC, said it initially was thought the PAC was required to file an affidavit to submit paper reports through the end of this year, but now they know that isn't the case.

"We were covering our bases," she said, and it's the goal to file reports electronically in the future.

ETHICS RAMIFICATIONS

Two-hundred-and-twelve candidates registered to file their reports electronically; 118 candidates have done so and 64 have filed carry-over reports that way, Powell said.

Powell was asked if any candidates filed their reports for last quarter on paper without submitting the required affidavit.

He provided state records that show that was done by Reps. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, and Bob Johnson, D-Jacksonville; Sens. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, and Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville; and Prosecuting Attorney Ken Casady of Benton.

When asked about the penalty for such an act, Graham Sloan, director of the Arkansas Ethics Commission, replied in an email, "If someone filed a paper report after 10/01/17 without having first filed an affidavit, then they would be in violation of the requirement to file reports electronically.

"That violation would carry the same penalties as other violations of laws under the AEC's jurisdiction, i.e., public letter (caution, warning, or reprimand) and/or fine ($50 to $2,000)," he wrote in his email.

Wardlaw said last week that he filed his report in paper form because he thought that the law that went into effect Oct. 1 meant the requirement applied to fourth-quarter reports due in mid-January. He said he plans to sign an affidavit to allow paper submissions.

He said he doesn't have adequate access to Internet services at his home in Johnsville, which is in Bradley County.

Sample said his campaign consultant, Linda Napper, filed his report in paper form.

"The way that I understand that the fourth quarter starts Oct. 1 and this law came into effect Oct. 1, so that said the fourth quarter [report] had to filed electronically [in January]," he said, echoing Wardlaw's understanding of the new law.

Sample said he plans to file electronically, "even though they say it is a pain in the butt."

Johnson said he's never filed his reports electronically.

"I thought it started Jan. 1," he said.

Johnson said he doesn't expect to collect more contributions to help him retire his 2016 campaign debt of about $2,600 that he owes himself, but, if he is required to file more reports in the future, he'll do so electronically. He said he's running for mayor of Jacksonville next year.

Lindsey could not be reached for comment by telephone last week, but he's also said he's not seeking re-election next year.

Casady said he initially forgot to file his report in electronic form, but he eventually did so.

Nearly two weeks ago, the secretary of state's office provided records that showed Reps. David Branscum, R-Marshall, Lane Jean, R-Magnolia, and DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio; and Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, submitted affidavits to allow them to file on paper. But Vaught subsequently changed her mind and filed electronically.

Last week, the office provided records showing that Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, filed an affidavit for the exemption as well. Gates could not be reached for comment by telephone on Friday afternoon.

H.L. Moody, campaign manager for state House Democratic candidate Tippi McCullough of Little Rock, said he signed an affidavit nearly two weeks ago, but then rescinded it the following day and filed the report electronically.

"I know a lot of people had problems with it. It's not just me."

SundayMonday on 10/29/2017