It seems everybody’s high on the Blue Hog.
OK, perhaps not Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott and his team.
The Blue Hog Report is Little Rock lawyer Matt Campbell’s blog, for more than a decade a virtual one-man wrecking crew against misbehaving politicians, particularly those who try to hide the truth.
His recent digging on plans for a downtown festival, LITfest, uncovered hidden details of a cozy arrangement with a consultancy that had hired the mayor’s former chief of staff. The discrepancies Campbell revealed between the Little Rock Board of Directors’ understanding of the plans and what was actually going on eventually scuttled the event. The reporting also turned up the heat on Mayor Scott in his re-election battle, and he was already in hot water over his administration’s aura of secrecy.
What began as an unremarkable news aggregation blog evolved into a political force and a champion of transparency laws that Scott and many others have flouted.
The mayor is the most recent glaring example, and there’s been plenty of opaqueness to wallow in. Campbell’s insistent freedom-of-information requests and follow-up lawsuits revealed, among other irregularities, that the city apparently deleted files related to his FOIA requests.
John Brummett gave Campbell, who is politically unaffiliated, an up arrow in a recent column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, praising his snark as well as his investigative skills. Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times wrote that Campbell’s frustration with mayoral recalcitrance mirrored his own experiences with Scott’s team, including Chief of Staff Kendra Pruitt.
Arkansas Business Managing Editor Jan Cottingham was one of the first mainstream Arkansas journalists to spotlight Campbell’s work, and her 2015 piece for this paper won a silver prize for best personality profile in the Alliance of Area Business Publishers national journalism awards.
Over the summer, Campbell was suspended from Twitter for posting information that was clearly public.
“I like to say if you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly,” he said in an interview back in July. Keeping the reporting factual and bringing the receipts — “documenting everything” — are essential, he said.
Within five years of starting the blog in 2010, Campbell had spurred the resignation of a lieutenant governor, led a circuit judge to pull out of a state Court of Appeals campaign and forced the secretary of state to stop using taxpayer money on outside lawyers.
But for a lawyer in self-practice who is also fathering a teenager, Campbell’s blog has always been a sideline. “I shut it down for a couple of years, but it had to come back,” he said. “The goal has been less sort of daily content and more long-form content when there is something to write about. But it seems like every time you get another round of elections, stuff manages to show up one way or another.”
To pay the bills, he’s mainly handling divorce and post-divorce cases, including custody and support disputes. A solo practitioner since 2013, Campbell said his early oil and gas clientele in Van Buren County and El Dorado dwindled seven or eight years ago, and “in the last three years I’d say about 85% to 90% of the matters I handle are domestic. I have no idea how that happened, other than word of mouth.”
As for Mayor Scott’s mistakes, several local crisis management specialists said a lack of transparency inevitably compounds problems. One consultant, speaking generally and not strictly about the mayor, said transparency, accountability and tolerance are the keys to minimizing controversy in both government and private enterprise.
“Transparency is perhaps the most important yet most difficult of the principles to implement,” but it is “the hallmark of good faith,” said David Martin, founder and CEO of Allegiance Consulting Group in Little Rock. “Being transparent requires trust, but will … lead to reasonable resolutions to a multitude of issues.”