LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – On the eve of May primaries, a state senator filed an ethics complaint against the group Common Ground Arkansas, questioning members’ advocacy of candidates without disclosing donors. The group’s leader called the complaint “baseless,” and a law professor questioned its merit.
State Sen. Trent Garner (R) announced Monday he filed an ethics complaint against Common Ground Arkansas. The 501c4 group promotes moderate policy and candidates in Arkansas. Garner said he thinks the group and its founder, State Sen. Jim Hendren (I), violated election law through several recent television and radio advertisements aired in Northwest Arkansas.
“Common Ground Arkansas is a dark money organization that’s trying to hide from the people of Arkansas who their donors are,” Garner said.
In the complaint, Garner claimed the organization needed to specifically register with the state to promote candidates if it did not want to release donors’ names.
“They blatantly say they support these candidates,” Garner said. “If you do that, that means you have to disclose your donors, file and register as an Independent Expenditure Committee [group],” Garner said.
Garner and Hendren have been at odds in the past. The former filed a complaint against the latter in 2020 that was later retracted after the Senate Ethics Committee twice dismissed it. Garner said personal history has nothing to do with the complaint.
“No matter if it’s Jim Hendren or anybody else in Arkansas, it’s important that we get these special interest groups to follow the law,” Garner said.
In a statement, Hendren denied any wrongdoing.
“Anyone can file a complaint, even a state senator, on baseless grounds. That does not mean any violations have occurred. I have not been notified of a complaint by the Ethics Commission, and I don’t respond to Facebook allegations made the day before an election.”
A University of Arkansas law professor said Monday the complaint is an example of the contentious nature of state politics.
“None of this has any merit, but it is super interesting for anyone who loves how weird and competitive Arkansas politics can be,” Prof. Matt Bender said.
Bender said by his interpretation of the law, Common Ground Arkansas did not commit anything unethical.
“It’s very transparent about what they’re trying to do, so no, there won’t be any serious penalties for this,” Bender said. “Organizations like Common Ground don’t have to list the people who contribute money to them.”
Bender said the only way to legally make groups like Common Ground disclose their donors would be to pass a law through the legislature.
Garner announced earlier this year that he will not run for reelection. Hendren, formerly a Republican who decided to leave the party, considered a gubernatorial run but never announced his candidacy.