Arkansas Ethics Complaint Leads to Investigation of Pro-Casino Group
Posted on: February 24, 2020, 06:01h.
Last updated on: February 24, 2020, 09:30h.
The Arkansas’ Ethics Commission is looking into allegations that a group which supports a gaming property in Pope County is acting as an unregistered political action committee or ballot question committee, news reports said.
The complaint further claims the local organization, called Pope County Majority, gave campaign signs to at least two political candidates. It also allegedly printed cards that listed endorsed candidates. In addition, the complaint questions if the group’s donors are identified, news reports said.
The complaint listed both Pope County Majority and its organizer, Kelly Jett, who has denied wrongdoing, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
In a GoFundMe post, the organization is described as a “group dedicated to community awareness. We are in favor of a casino/resort and other progressive establishments for the growth and development of Pope County.” Pope County Majority was able to raise $1,625 of its GoFundMe goal of $5,000 as of Monday.
The ethics complaint was filed recently by Teresa Harris of Russellville, Arkansas, according to the Democrat-Gazette. Harris is opposed to a casino in Pope County. But if one is built there, it should be upscale in appearance, Harris said.
The Democrat-Gazette further reported Graham Sloan, director of the Ethics Commission, said the commission will investigate possible contributions by Jett or Pope County Majority to candidates. It will also investigate whether they adhered to relevant political action committee requirements.
In response to the complaint, Jett told the Democrat-Gazette Pope County Majority is “exactly like neighborhood associations and civic organizations” as a “unincorporated association from and for the community.
“It does not donate to candidates, nor was it formed for a particular local election,” Jett was quoted by the Democrat-Gazette. “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.”
No Casino Applicants Donated to Pope County Majority: Attorney
Also, not one of the five companies trying to capture a casino license in Pope County donated to Pope County Majority, Chris Burks, an attorney representing Jett, told the Democrat-Gazette.
Kelly Jett spent her own money on a campaign sign for a candidate she supports,” Burks was additionally quoted by the Democrat-Gazette.
Last year, the Arkansas Racing Commission did not approve any of the five applications submitted for a proposed casino in Pope County. The commission said in its ruling last June that it did not possess the legal authority to approve one of the casino proposals because of inadequate constituent support.
Pope County Casino Selection Tied Up in Court
Litigation related to the application process is currently pending. Last month, the Democrat-Gazette reported that special prosecutor Jason Barrett claimed in a letter that Ben Cross, a Pope County judge, and some quorum court members — the state’s regional bodies that govern a county — repeatedly violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act on the gaming license before throwing their support to Cherokee Nation Businesses.
In January, the Pope County casino selection process was temporarily blocked after a local judge approved a restraining order. The ruling prevents the Arkansas Racing Commission from issuing a casino license or considering applications.