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The Arkansas Ethics Commission is looking into claims filed by a Republican official against Mike Lee, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, alleging that Lee skirted campaign finance rules and necessary disclosures on his yard signs.

Similar complaints about Lee's campaign were raised last week by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's campaign, which accused Lee of acting "hypocritically" because he rolled out a legislative package of proposed ethics reforms. Rutledge is the Republican incumbent who is seeking her second four-year term.

The complaint against Lee's campaign was submitted by Republican Party Executive Director Sarah Jo Reynolds. She alleges that Lee was late in filing three campaign finance reports during the primary; violated the ban on corporate contributions by accepting an "in-kind donation" of food and drink from a Little Rock restaurant; and failed to include "paid for by" disclosures on his yard signs.

Lee's campaign has denied breaking the rules. It attributed the tardy reports to problems with the state's new online reporting system. It also provided photos of its signs that bear the proper disclosure in fine print. (Asked to provide its own evidence, the Republican Party of Arkansas supplied this newspaper with a photo taken from farther away, in which an attribution cannot be clearly seen.)

The March donation of $850 worth of food and drink from Trio's restaurant in Little Rock should have been attributed to the restaurant's owner -- Little Rock City Director Capi Peck -- rather than to the business itself, Lee's campaign said. The gift came during a fundraiser held at the restaurant shortly after the start of Lee's campaign.

An amended report was filed this month to attribute the donation to Peck, who confirmed in a phone call Monday that the donation was from her.

"Simply put, there is nothing to these political claims that note inadvertent, clerical errors," Jacob Kauffman, a spokesman for Lee's campaign, said in a statement.

As part of his ethics package, Lee has proposed disallowing candidates from amending reports that show "illegal campaign finance filings." Kauffman asserted that such a change would not apply to the circumstances surrounding Lee's report, because the donation was not illegal in the first place.

In addition to his proposal for a slate of new ethics laws, Lee's campaign has attempted to cast Rutledge as inattentive toward corruption in the state Legislature, where seven current or former lawmakers have faced criminal charges in the past year.

"This is a sad attempt to distract Arkansas voters from the fact that Leslie Rutledge won't investigate corruption in the state Legislature. Rutledge has zero interest in going after real ethics cheats, who violate our laws by stealing thousands of dollars from their campaign funds," Kauffman's statement said.

Asked for comment, Rutledge's spokesman pointed to an earlier statement saying that Lee "needs to clean up his own house."

NW News on 09/30/2018

Print Headline: Ethics complaint targets Democrats' AG hopeful

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