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Ethics filing: Anonymous cash sought

by Hunter Field | April 20, 2018 at 2:48 a.m.

Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Jan Morgan and state Rep. Dan Sullivan were accused this week in an ethics complaint of trying to "skirt" campaign finance laws at an event in Jonesboro earlier this month.

Morgan and Sullivan, both Republicans, denied any wrongdoing on Thursday, saying the complaint was an attempt to stifle free speech and grassroots support.

Sullivan of Jonesboro told a group gathered April 7 to hear Morgan speak at a northeast Arkansas motorcycle dealership that he'd collect money and contact information from anyone interested in helping fund a billboard promoting Morgan's candidacy, according to a video of the event posted to NEA Report's Facebook group.

Sullivan jokes in the video that Morgan should cover her ears, so the fundraising efforts would be "independent" of the campaign.

Retired Jonesboro banker Ray Hackworth said he submitted the complaint to the Arkansas Ethics Commission on Wednesday. He alleges that Sullivan, with Morgan's consent, "did solicit campaign donations in a manner which was designed to skirt election law for the purpose of hiding the identities of those providing the donations."

A copy of the complaint was shared with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; the ethics commission is precluded by law from releasing information or confirming the existence of pending investigations.

Sullivan on Thursday denied acting unethically, and he said he never collected any money for a billboard.

"There are forces at work trying to limit free speech as guaranteed by our Constitution and trying to use government to do it," he said. Sullivan is being challenged by Dr. Cole Peck of Jonesboro in the May 22 Republican primary.

Morgan, who is challenging incumbent Gov. Asa Hutchinson in the Republican primary, said the complaint is likely an attempt to stop other individuals outside her campaign from erecting more billboards promoting her candidacy. Independently funded billboards supporting her have started to pop around the state even without her prior knowledge, she said.

"I'm disappointed but not surprised to see our detractors continually work to suppress the voices of grassroots citizens who dare to express their support of me by putting up their own billboards," Morgan said. "This campaign team has not participated in any ethics violations."

The identities of those behind any campaign donations -- whether in-kind or financial contributions -- valued at $50 or more must be reported, according to Arkansas law. The contributions can be reported through candidates' monthly finance reports or through the finance reports of an independent expenditure committee.

The topic of billboards came up during Morgan's campaign stop because an Arkansas State University student and her friends had pooled money to buy billboards in Jonesboro to support Morgan.

Morgan said a billboard, which went up several days before Morgan's Jonesboro trip, drew the attention of Hutchinson's campaign, which inquired about who paid for the billboard.

Morgan at the Jonesboro event criticized Hutchinson for "intimidating and bullying" the students who funded the billboard.

A Hutchinson campaign spokesman declined to comment, saying only that the governor had nothing to do with the billboard or ethics complaint.

Morgan said her team has gone "above and beyond" to ensure compliance with all election laws, and she can't control individuals who want post billboards or signs on their own volition.

"Meanwhile, I am sure my opponent and his water boys will use the worn out strategy of citing an ethics complaint as a distraction strategy to indicate unworthiness for office regardless of the facts," she said.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 04/20/2018

Print Headline: Ethics filing: Anonymous cash sought

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