LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Hundreds of thousands of dollars in dark money ads being aired on Arkansas TVs and showing up in mailboxes. Many of those are coming from an outside group attacking a Supreme Court Chief Justice candidate. Some across the state and country are questioning why more than half a million dollars is being spent by an outside group on a statewide race without any indication of who is paying for the ads or why.
An ad slamming Supreme Court Chief Justice Candidate Courtney Goodson never asks you to vote against her or vote for her opponent.
And because there’s no call to vote, the Justice Crisis Network, an outside group based in Washington, DC, doesn’t have to tell you who the money comes from to pay for the ad or why.
“That’s the problem,” said State Representative Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock. “People of Arkansas have no idea who is paying for it, and they’re intentionally subverting the law.”
But if a bill Tucker proposed in 2015 had been approved by fellow lawmakers last session, he believes Arkansans would have a better idea of who is trying to influence the race for the high court’s top seat.
“My bill would have required people who buy those advertisements all they have to do is say who is paying for the ad,” he said.
The new trend of dark money from outside groups not affiliated with candidates flooding into state races isn’t likely to disappear soon, according to the Justice at Stake organization. It’s a judicial elections organization that has tracked outside spending in state Supreme Court races since 2010.
“We feel the role of money in state judicial elections has really been spinning out of control,” said Laurie Kinney, Justice at Stake’s communication’s manager. “What we’re seeing in Arkansas is the trend nationwide. We’re seeing groups that don’t have ties to the state that are spending more money in those races, without them having to disclose who is providing the funding or what the real purpose of the involvement is.”
“It’s really concerning with the election still being a few weeks away. We highly suspect there will be more money spent, more advertisements on air leaving voters facing a barrage of ads right up until election day,” Kinney said.
According to FCC filings Judicial Crisis Network has spent more than half a million dollars on television advertisements, not to mention fliers and mailers that are being sent to Arkansas voters. But what the end goal is remains unclear.
“The role of outside spending in these races raises more questions than it answers, because we don’t know what the agenda of these groups might be,” Kinney said.
“I have no idea, because I don’t know who is paying for the ads I think the people of Arkansas have a right to know that,” Tucker said. “That’s the half million dollar question right now.”
Tucker and others pushing for more transparency in the process say Arkansas voters have a right to know just who is at work on Arkansas airwaves, but the rub for some involved in politics and policy say they’re concerned that if groups buying advertisements have to disclose their donors, then intimidation could be the end result.
Working 4 You reached out to the Judicial Crisis Network to discuss its goals and agenda in Arkansas, we have not received a comment at this time.
Both Goodson and Kemp have opposed the outside group’s tactics in the race.
DO YOU NEED KARK WORKING 4 YOU?
KARK Working 4 You is committed to highlighting issues that are important to Arkansas. If you have a story that needs to be covered, call Reporter Marci Manley on the Working 4 You Tipline at (501) 340-4448 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.