LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Ethics Commission Friday dismissed a complaint filed against Gov. Asa Hutchinson alleging he violated state law by campaigning for a state Senate candidate during office hours.
The commission voted 3-0, with one member absent and another abstaining, to find no probable cause to investigate. Little Rock attorney and liberal blogger Matt Campbell had filed the complaint against Hutchinson, saying a state law prohibited him from campaigning for state candidates during normally recognized office hours.
Campbell submitted social media posts advertising Hutchinson’s appearance at two Feb. 29 campaign events to re-elect Republican Sen. Eddie Joe Williams. Campbell also noted the governor’s office lists its business hours as 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Graham Sloan, executive director of the commission, wrote in a final action letter released Friday afternoon that the commission relied on a previous advisory opinion on the law when determining to dismiss the complaint. The 2002 advisory said elected officials could not campaign for other candidates on state time, but included an opinion that there was an exemption if they took personal leave or vacation to participate in campaign events.
Kevin Crass, Hutchinson’s attorney, said the governor scheduled leave to attend the events and notified staff ahead of time that he had “personal meetings.”
“The dismissal means they didn’t even find probable cause to go forward with a hearing,” Crass said. “The governor… actually documented that he took leave of office to (campaign), and the commission has said very clearly that that is clearly permissible under state law.”
In an emailed statement, Hutchinson’s spokesman J.R. Davis said the governor believed Campbell’s complaint was meritless.
“As we’ve said from the beginning, it has always been our belief that the complaint was without merit because a governor by both tradition and constitutional right does not abandon his or her right to campaign just because they are elected,” Davis wrote. “Today’s ruling by the Ethics Commission underscores that point, and we are delighted by their judgment on the matter.”
Campbell said he planned to notify the commission in writing Friday of his intent to appeal the decision in court.
Earlier this year, Campbell filed a similar complaint against Arkansas Treasurer Dennis Milligan and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, citing a trip the two constitutional officers took to campaign in Iowa for former governor Mike Huckabee when he was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. The Ethics Commission rejected that complaint saying the law excluded federal candidates under its campaigning definitions.
“I think it’s ridiculous. It’s like they bent over backward the first time with the ‘federal candidates aren’t candidates’ in the previous complaint. And now this time … it’s like they’re carving out another exemption,” Campbell said. “They’ve made it where the statute is pretty much meaningless. They’re creating an exemption that does not exist, and they don’t have the authority to create an exemption.”
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