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New lawmaker fined over ethics violation; former rival off hook

by Michael R. Wickline | January 17, 2021 at 3:14 a.m.
Former state Rep. Jim Sorvillo, R-Little Rock, and state Rep. Ashley Hudson, D-Little Rock

Rep. Ashley Hudson agreed to pay a $50 fine and receive a public letter of caution in a settlement of a complaint filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission by a state Republican Party official, the commission's director said Friday.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Jim Sorvillo corrected an unintentional campaign reporting error within 30 days of learning about the error, after a state Democratic Party official filed a complaint, so the commission found Sorvillo didn't violate state ethics law, commission Director Graham Sloan said.

In the Nov. 3 general election, Hudson, a Democrat, narrowly ousted Sorvillo, a Republican. Both are from Little Rock.

The House on Monday voted 96-1 to seat Hudson, along with the 99 other elected members of the chamber, to put to bed disputes over Hudson's 24-vote victory.

Hudson signed a consent order Dec. 30 in which she agreed with the commission finding that she violated Arkansas Code Annotated 7-6-203 as a candidate for House District 32 by accepting a campaign contribution from a prohibited political action committee, Sloan said in a letter dated Friday to her.

"It is noted that you accepted a campaign contribution from Kutak Rock, L.L.P. Political Action Committee, which constituted a prohibited PAC because it was not registered as a PAC in Arkansas," Sloan wrote in his letter to Hudson.

"It is further noted that your campaign wrote a check back to Kutak Rock, L.L.P. Political Action Committee in the amount it contributed to your campaign," Sloan wrote.

Seth Mays, senior political director for the state Republican Party, filed the complaint against Hudson.

Hudson said Friday, "I messed up. I take responsibility for that."

Hudson said she didn't fully recognize that a federally registered political action committee also has to register with the state, and she returned the $1,500 contribution to the Kutak Rock political action committee after the complaint was filed.

In Sorvillo's case, the commission decided in a 5-0 vote Friday that the "affirmative defense," provided for under Arkansas Code Annotated 7-6-229, was applicable in this case and had been met successfully based on an amendment to Sorvillo's campaign-finance reports on Dec. 10. That date was within 30 days of discovering the alleged violation, Sloan said Friday in a letter to Sorvillo.

Sloan said Sorvillo "shall not be considered to have committed a violation" of state ethics law after an investigation triggered by a complaint filed by state Democratic Party political director Jacob Kauffman.

In his complaint, Kauffman said Sorvillo reported a $300 campaign contribution from Arkansas Surgical Hospital and that appeared to violate campaign-finance rules prohibiting such contributions under Arkansas Code Annotated 7-6-203.

Sorvillo said Friday that the $300 contribution was actually from a political action committee that includes Arkansas Surgical Hospital, so he amended his reports to correct the reporting error after the complaint was filed.

"It is more of a typing mistake," he said.

In other business, the five-member commission elected attorney Alice Eastwood of Rogers as its chairwoman and Harding University faculty member Lori Klein of Searcy as its vice chairwoman. Eastwood formerly served as the commission's vice chairwoman. The previous chairwoman was former commissioner Ashley Driver Younger of Little Rock, whose term ended Dec. 31.

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