Election spending by group is $117,198, with focus on 3 races in Northwest Arkansas

'I Voted' stickers are shown in this file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

A nonprofit group formed a month before the May 24 primaries spent more than $100,000 on legislative races, state finance records show.

Of the group's $117,198 in spending, all went to Republican primaries, and 84% went to three state Senate races in Northwest Arkansas, records show.

"The policies of Arkansas politics are determined today in the Republican primaries," said Brenda Vassaur Taylor, spokeswoman for Truth in Politics 2 IEC and co-founder of the Conduit for Action, the committee's sole contributor. Conduit is a nonprofit group supporting conservative candidates and issues. Taylor is an attorney in Fayetteville who co-founded Conduit with businessman Joe Maynard, also of Fayetteville, in 2012.

"We have experience and years of historical resources from which to draw," Taylor said. "We want the freedom to use those resources. We have used the IEC in at least two or three other election cycles."

Truth In Politics is an independent expenditure committee, one of 14 registered in Arkansas as of Friday. Such committees spend to support or oppose candidates or causes, but cannot contribute to or coordinate with regular political campaigns under Arkansas law. The committees can take in an unlimited amount of donations and aren't limited in their spending.

These committees have to file monthly contribution and spending reports with the secretary of state during a campaign, an additional report after June 21 runoffs to the primary and a final primary report after the runoffs.

Six of the 14 committees in Arkansas have reported raising money so far this year, according to campaign finance records from the Arkansas Secretary of State Office. Only four raised more than $50,000 and three of those spent exclusively on the heavily contested 6th Judicial District's prosecuting attorney's race in Pulaski and Perry counties.

Truth in Politics is the only such committee in Arkansas that spent more than $12,000 on legislative races, according to the secretary of state's records. Truth in Politics registered April 25, state records show.

The Northwest Arkansas candidates supported by Truth in Politics are: Rep. Joshua Bryant, R-Rogers, for Senate District 32 in Benton County; Rep. Gayla McKenzie, R-Gravette, for Senate District 35 in Benton and Washington counties; and Rep. Clint Penzo, R-Springdale, for Senate District 31. Bryant and Penzo won their primaries while McKenzie didn't. The only other candidate to receive any money from the group was Sen. Charles Beckham, R-McNeil, who lost his reelection bid in the primary for Senate District 3.

Two candidates singled out for spending in opposition to their campaigns by Truth in Politics were Tyler Dees of Siloam Springs, McKenzie's opponent; and Andrew Thompson of Springdale, one of Penzo's. Penzo won a three-man primary against Thompson and Paul Colvin of Tontitown.

Conduit tracks political contributions to candidates and identifies large political donors in Arkansas and the kinds of policies the donors support, Taylor said. Those contributions show the type of voting habits expected from the candidates, she said.

Thompson and Dees were supported by the state's political elite, which opposes the economic policies promoted by Conduit, she said.

The same contributors to his campaign have given money in the past to the candidates Conduit supported, Dees said Friday. Conduit accused him of supporting policies he actually opposes, but were supported by some of his contributors, Dees said. Contributors have to choose who to support in a campaign, and most often that's a candidate they think is the best choice even if he does not agree with everything a contributor wants, he said.

"I'm thankful people see through the misrepresentation they get at the last minute," he said, referring to a direct mail piece that appeared late in the campaign that opposed his election.

Truth in Politics spent $12,200 against Dees, according to campaign finance records.

"I thought it was more," Dees said.

Almost all the money spent by Truth in Politics -- $108,116 out of $117,198 -- went to television or direct mail advertisements, records show.

"If mailers weren't effective, then consultants wouldn't pay for them," Bryant said Thursday.

Truth in Politics spent $11,354 to Bryant's benefit in his successful Republican primary run for Senate District 32. Bryant has never spoken to anyone connected to the committee about its spending, he said, but surmises the money went to a mailer supporting him. At least one flier appeared that he didn't pay for, he said.

Neither his campaign nor any group he knows of did any analysis to determine the effect, if any, the independent spending had on his campaign against Rogers businessman James Tull, Bryant said. Bryant faces no opposition in November.

The campaign consulting group Reed+Company of Alexander managed most of the committee's election-related spending, finance records show. The rest of the committee's spending was done by Political Strategies of Fayetteville, a group Taylor manages.

"The outside expenditures were significant in my Senate race, and I think that's unfortunate because it didn't allow candidates to run on their merits as they should," said Thompson, who lost to Penzo.

He said that reasoning applied to all outside spending, not just Truth in Politics. Candidates should stand or fail on their own, he said.

Top Independent spenders in 2022

• Arkansas Justice & Public Safety PAC: $289,894.07

• Safer Cities Arkansas: $215,725.00

• Truth In Politics 2 IEC: $117,198.19

• Fair Courts America: $66,594.00

• Make Liberty Win Arkansas: $11,664.05

Source: Arkansas Secretary of State