A civic group going by the name of Pope County Majority, hailing from Pope County, Arkansas, was designed to spread the word about the benefits of allowing a casino in the area. But it may have become a little too overzealous in its efforts. Instead of just campaigning for the cause, the group, according to a complaint filed with local authorities, used company funds to support two political candidates. This, asserts the complaint, means the group is a political action committee (PAC) and must identify itself as such. The Arkansas Ethics Commission is now getting involved and will reportedly investigate the legitimacy of the complaint.
According to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the complaint was filed by a local resident of Russellville, which is located in Pope County. Teresa Harris accuses the pro-casino group and founder Kelly Jett of giving campaign signs to a couple of political candidates, as well as having published cards that endorsed several candidates for this November’s elections. She adds that, since the organization is acting as an unregistered PAC, it is violating the law by not disclosing its donors. Harris is an admitted foe of casino expansion in Arkansas.
The Ethics Commission acknowledged the complaint and said in a letter on February 13 that it will address the matter. It will explore whether or not any state or federal laws may have been broken by offering in-kind contributions to political aspirants and if it was in violation of PAC reporting guidelines. The commission will also investigate whether or not Jett or the group was given contributions or spent any funds to sway votes in the election.
A civic group voicing its opinion on a particular subject is not against the law or any rules. If it takes things further, however, and shows any type of tangible support for a political action or candidate, the rules change substantially.
For her part, Jett isn’t concerned about the investigation. She said in a statement on February 21, “[Exactly] like neighborhood associations and civic organizations, Pope County Majority is an unincorporated association from and for the community. It does not donate to candidates, nor was it formed for a particular local election. Instead, it is made up of caring volunteers who talk about issues.”
Jett added, “We’re glad that neighborhood associations and community groups like ours are not political action committees in Arkansas and can engage in issue speech, because we don’t want Washington D.C.-style politics of personal attacks in our areas. What’s next–outlawing pancake suppers, fish fries and barbecues because politics is getting discussed? We’re glad Arkansas has sensible laws that we are proud to follow.”
The idea of a casino coming to Pope County has been fraught with problems and controversy since it was first proposed. Arkansas voters agreed to allow casino expansion in the state in 2018, but the majority of the voters who took to the polls in November of that year to weigh in on the subject were against it. They have fought the measure, launching several lawsuits that have become substantial hurdles. However, the arguments have lost ground in court, and – eventually – a casino will be constructed somewhere in the county.