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'Rebuild the Rock' campaign committee reports spending $330,000 on failed Little Rock sales-tax referendum

by Joseph Flaherty | October 16, 2021 at 3:48 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock City Hall is shown in this 2019 file photo.

The "Rebuild the Rock" campaign committee reported spending close to $330,000 during the unsuccessful effort to enact a Little Rock sales-tax increase, according to the committee's final campaign-finance report filed Thursday with the Arkansas Ethics Commission.

The committee reported receiving a total of $346,150 in contributions during the course of the campaign.

The 1 percentage-point increase championed by Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. as the vehicle to fund quality-of-life initiatives on the heels of the covid-19 pandemic failed in a Sept. 14 citywide referendum, 62% to 38%.

The "Rebuild the Rock" committee, as well as an opposition legislative-question committee called "Responsible Taxation for Little Rock," were both under investigation by the Ethics Commission as of late September because of complaints detailing misstatement and omissions in their campaign-finance filings submitted by attorney and blogger Matt Campbell.

[DOCUMENT: LR sales tax campaign finance report » arkansasonline.com/1016filing/]

Campbell's blog, the Blue Hog Report, published on Sept. 27 correspondence from the Ethics Commission showing the commission had opened investigations into the two committees based on his complaints.

The notification letters addressed to Campbell were both dated Sept. 24 and signed by the commission's director, Graham F. Sloan.

Earlier that month in another blog post, Campbell had noted missing information on contributors contained in filings and inaccurate reporting of expenditures by both committees.

The "Rebuild the Rock" committee later filed amended reports with the commission, but the reports did not contain information about how the dollars paid to a political consulting firm, McLarty Consulting, were then transferred to certain vendors for services like advertising and social media, Campbell noted in the Sept. 27 blog post.

Scott and several allies, including state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, served as co-chairs of the "Rebuild the Rock" committee. Vice Mayor Lance Hines, who represents Ward 5 on the city board and frequently clashes with Scott on policy, helped head the opposition committee.

A final campaign finance report from "Responsible Taxation for Little Rock" was not available on the Ethics Commission's website as of Friday afternoon. The deadline to file the final report was 30 days following the election.

According to the group's preelection report filed with the commission Sept. 7, the committee had received a cumulative total of $58,730 in contributions and reported spending slightly more than $24,000.

When reached via email Friday, Hines wrote, "We have received the Ethics complaint and will be responding in a timely manner to the complaint. Our response to the complaint will speak for itself when filed. We have also filed our final report due 30 days after the election which is today."

Alli Clark Howland, a McClarty Consulting official who served as a spokeswoman for the "Rebuild the Rock" campaign committee, did not respond to questions via email Friday regarding the Ethics Commission's investigation.

Contributions listed on the final report from the "Rebuild the Rock" committee include a $100,000 donation from the Arkansas Zoological Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with the Little Rock Zoo.

An earlier report filed by the committee listed a $25,000 contribution from the Zoological Foundation dated Aug. 12, though the final report only listed a cumulative $100,000 contribution total from the group.

The Little Rock Zoo was slated to get $30 million for capital investments, plus $10 million to cover operating expenses over the 10 years of the sales tax, according to the non-binding spending resolution approved in June by the city board.

The money would have funded the construction of two new exhibits dedicated to giraffes and North American wildlife, respectively.

Additionally, other donations to the sales-tax campaign included $5,000 each from Steuart and Thomas Walton, scions of the Walton family.

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce -- a local business group that ultimately endorsed the tax after its chairman had expressed earlier reservations -- contributed $15,000 to the campaign on Aug. 27, according to an amended report received Sept. 17.

Baptist Health donated $10,000 on Sept. 1, according to the same report.

According to the final "Rebuild the Rock" campaign-finance report, during the Sept. 8-Oct. 14 period covered by the report, expenditures by category broke down to roughly $40,600 on advertising, $23,300 on direct mail, $23,800 on phone work, $29,400 on community outreach or engagement and $11,500 on fees.

Print Headline: LR committee spent $330,000 on tax drive

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