The Whispers Blog

Arkansas' breaking business news blog, with news and commentary from the Arkansas Business staff.
Send us tips.

The Interesting Battle over Alcohol in Arkansas

The Los Angeles Times offers a look at the battle being waged over Arkansas' alcohol amendment that, if approved, would make the entire state wet, and the inconceivable allies it has formed.

Package stores have forged an unlikely coalition here in the heart of the Bible Belt, joining preachers pounding their pulpits against the Arkansas Alcohol Beverage Amendment, which they say will spread the evils of drink.

"This fight has made for some unusual alliances," said Brian Richardson, chairman of the Citizens for Local Rights, which opposes the amendment. "The package stores and religious moral objectors — they're certainly strange bedfellows."

The article highlights an array of the religious aspects at play in the battle, and speaks to a few on either side of the amendment, including a Jasper preacher who sees the amendment causing an influx of drunk driving and an amendment supporter who says she was called "a tool of the devil" in a letter to the editor in the Newton County Times.

The article, by John M. Glionna, also centers on Mary Jackson, the owner of 67 Liquor in Possum Grape, who is worried about passage of the amendment and the effects it would have on her popular county-line store.

"It'll hurt me," Jackson tells the L.A. Times.

One of her customers, who drives from 40 miles away to buy his liquor, told Glionna he won't support the amendment.

"Hell, no," he said. "I like to stay off the radar. That's why I live out here."

To read the full L.A. Times article, click here.

Arkansans Have Endured 80k Political Ads Worth $33.1M

According to extensive research by The Center for Public Integrity, Arkansans have been inundated with $33.1 million worth of television ads this election season. 

Overall, that's 80,100 ads on your television screens. And there's still a few weeks to go before Election Day.

The majority of those ads have come from the race between Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and Rep. Tom Cotton for a U.S. Senate seat. According to CPI, $24.1 million has been spent on 56,000 ads. According to the center's research, most of that money, $13 million, has come from outside groups.

On the Democratic side, some of the major donors include the Senate Majority PAC ($2.3 million), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($2 million) and Patriot Majority USA ($1.3 million), in addition the Pryor campaign, which has shelled out $4.2 million. 

In support of Cotton, the major players have been Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies ($2.7 million), Americans for Prosperity ($1.6 million), American Crossroads ($1.1 million) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee ($1.1 million). The Cotton campaign has dished out $2.8 million for ads.

To date, research by The Center for Public Integrity shows Cotton is outspending Pryor, $12.7 million to $11.3 million. However, the research also shows Pryor and his supporters have run 28,300 ads, compared to 27,700 ads from the Cotton camp.

Compared against all other races for U.S. Senate, Arkansas is tied for No. 7 in dollars spent. Per eligible voter, Arkansas jumps to No. 3 with $11 spent per voter, which only trails races in Alaska and Iowa where $12 is being spent per voter.

At the state level, Arkansas ranks No. 17 in the country with $9 million spent in various political races, which comes to $4.23 per eligible voter and 24,100 ads. Unlike the Pryor-Cotton race, State-level races in Arkansas have seen more money from the candidates ($5.5 million) than outside groups ($3.5 million).

The majority of that $9 million comes from the race for governor, between Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Mike Ross, where $5.9 million has been spent.

The Hutchinson campaign leads the way with $2 million spent on ads, compared to $1.5 million by the Ross campaign. Outside groups supporting the candidates — the Republican Governors Association and Jobs & Opportunity — have spent identical totals, $1.2 million, on ads targeting the opposing candidate.

Races for attorney general ($1.4 million) and lieutenant governor ($1.3 million) have also crossed the six-figure mark.

For more numbers on political ads in Arkansas, check out the U.S. Senate numbers here and state-level race numbers here.

Performance, Not Academics, Drive Incentives for SEC Football Coaches

When's the last time you heard of a college football coach getting fired for his players' bad grades?

Sure, you've heard of the ones where an academic scandal has hit the fan, and the university is forced to clean house, but you usually don't hear of coaches being let go because their starting quarterback can't make the grades.

It's because college football is an industry driven by on-the-field results. Those results are the driver that results in millions upon millions pouring into the universities.

Just look at the Southeastern Conference, the proclaimed king of the college football world, where the top teams and top-paid coaches reside. The majority of the coaches have base salaries north of $2 million. Bret Bielema, head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, has a base salary of $2.95 million.

Forbes recently broke down salaries of 11 of 14 SEC coaches — that was all that was immediately available — to research each coach's incentives for on-the-field results and in-the-classroom results.

The results are not surprising.

On average, if the coaches evaluated in the Forbes study met all of the on-the-field incentives in their contract, they would receive $966,363. 

Gus Malzahn, an Arkansas native who is now head coach for Auburn University, had the largest amount of incentives tied to on-the-field results, which maxes out at $1.8 million. Others had max incentives above six figures: Mark Stoops of the University of Kentucky is at $1.5 million; Gary Pinkel at University of Missouri is at $1.4 million; and Steve Spurrier of the University of South Carolina is at $1.1 million.

Bielema came in at $800,000 in max incentives tied to on-the-field results.

On the flip side, the 11 SEC coaches evaluated by Forbes had an average max academic incentive of $113,636.

Also interesting: two coaches — Will Muschamp of the University of Florida and Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M University — have no academic incentives in their multi-million dollar contracts. In turn, Muschamp has $450,000 in performance incentives and Sumlin has $625,000.

According to Forbes, Pinkel had the largest max academic incentive at $250,000. Bielema and Les Miles of Louisiana State University followed at $200,000. 

Forbes offered this after its findings:

"This isn't an indictment of either college football broadly or the SEC specifically. Football coaches are obviously paid to coach football, not teach math or science. But when hours spent in the classroom and on the practice field are often viewed as pulling in two opposite directions, football coach bonus structure offer an indication about where schools would prefer student-athletes spend their time."

Currently, the SEC has four of the top five teams in the country, five of the top 10, and six of the top 25. 

A review of the latest academic progress ratings for the 2012-13 year, listed here by SB Nation, shows only two SEC schools in the top 25 — South Carolina and Missouri. 

Arkansas was rated No. 195 out of 245 schools, with an APR of 935.

Crye-Leike Adopts New Safety Rules After Beverly Carter Death

The death of real estate agent Beverly Carter has prompted her former employer, Crye-Leike Realtors, to adopt new safety standards for the company's agents.

THV 11 News' Marlisa Goldsmith talks to Crye-Leike's David Goldstein about the new guidelines and training the firm has in store for its agents. It starts with a simple policy change:

Goldstein said, "We will no longer meet people we don't know at properties. We're going to ask that they come to the office."

Crye-Leike will also be offering a Beverly Carter Safety Course that all agents will be required to take before graduating from Crye-Leike College. Some of the topics included in the course will be: car parking with an escape route, surveying vacant property for suspicious activity before entering a home, and leaving office staff with details on your whereabouts.

"We need to make a change at our code of ethics level so that all realtors across the country will abide by these guidelines," Goldstein added.

You can watch Goldstein's complete report here.

Wal-Mart Cheered, Jeered for Solar Power Efforts

Wal-Mart is catching the highs and lows of the solar power debate.

No matter the situation the world's largest retailer involves itself in, rest assured, it will be analyzed, critiqued and questioned to excruciating levels. The latest issue is solar power.

Slate has a story on the Solar Energy Industries Association report on the top 25 corporations in terms of megawatts of solar capacity. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville leads the competition — with 105 megawatts installed — and the race isn't even close. Kohl's is second on the listing with 50 megawatts installed.

"Here's another comparison that puts Walmart's efforts into perspective: According to SEIA spokesman Ken Johnson, the company now has more solar capacity than 35 states and the District of Colombia. It lags behind California, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. That's it. (Last year, using a different data source, Bloomberg reported that Walmart had more capacity than 38 states)."

And the Arkansas-based company has announced plans to double its solar installations on its store rooftops by 2020. According to Wal-Mart, the move could save it as much as $1 billion a year in energy costs.

Ironically, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, Minnesota, that promotes local solutions and sustainable community development, released a report Oct. 9 that claims the Walton family is doing all it can to undermine renewable energy policies.

"Since 2010, the Waltons have donated $4.5 million to more than 20 organizations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the American Enterprise Institute, which are leading the state campaigns against clean energy."

In an email to Arkansas Business, Daphne Davis Moore, communications director for the Walton Family Foundation, refuted the ILSR claim, stating the organization was "incorrect regarding ALEC. The (Walton) foundation has not provided any funding to ALEC."

Moore also provided the following Oct. 10 statement from the Walton Family Foundation on the ILSR report:

The Walton Family Foundation is proud of our decades-long track record investing in real solutions to tough environmental challenges. Over the last five years alone, we’ve invested $351 million in efforts to support real, lasting ecological restoration in the Gulf of Mexico, to tackle the water policy challenges in the Colorado River Basin, to conserve some of the most ecologically rich seascapes around the globe and to push for sustainable fisheries management that benefits fishing communities and families. Our grantees include many of the nation’s leading environmental groups, as well as local organizations working on behalf of the communities that depend directly on healthy rivers, oceans and wildlife.

This report ignores significant investments by the Walton Family Foundation with leading environmental groups. Instead, the author chooses to focus on a handful of grants, none of which were designated for renewable energy-related issues.

As a leading funder working to find lasting solutions to some of today’s most challenging societal issues – such as improving K-12 education and conserving critical marine and freshwater areas – the Walton Family Foundation works with many partners across a broad spectrum of beliefs. We are proud of this work and the impact of our many grantee partners on the lives of individuals and communities.

Another report released last year by ILSR found Wal-Mart's greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 14 percent since its 2005 pledge to go green.

Stacy Mitchell, a senior research at ILSR and author of the newest report, said "The Waltons claim to have a deep commitment to sustainability, but their support for anti-solar initiatives tells a different story."