A footnote to my story yesterday on today’s special election in House District 54 (east Arkansas) may turn out to be a bigger story than I thought.
I mentioned that Democratic candidate Hudson Hallum’s most recent financial disclosure report included only the first page, which was faxed in on Friday (the full report was due last Tuesday.) Mistakes happen and I was at first inclined to chalk this one up to carelessness, but the curious response from Hallum’s campaign has me wondering if there is something more to it.
Since the Secretary of State only has the cover page, Talk Business asked the campaign for a copy of the finance report. No luck. Hallum’s consultant, Ben Thielemier with the Markham Group, tells us that they don’t have a copy. The only copy is the original report, which was mailed in the Secretary of State’s office yesterday.
No copy? Really. Only one is in the mail somewhere. I put a call into the Secretary of State’s office this morning and asked them to call me when they get it so if it comes in during the day, I will update. Also, I have asked Thielemier for a listing of the contributions and expenditures that appeared on the report from their records used to prepare the report, but have yet hear back on this request.
Thielemier attempts to explain this to the AP by telling them that he realized they missed the deadline (which was last Tuesday) and quickly faxed in the cover page and mailed the rest of the report. The problem with this explanation is that the campaign has faxed in every campaign contribution and expenditure report they have filed, were frequently late, and always included every page with their faxes up until this one. What makes this report different? The cover page lists $3,350 in contributions, a $52,500 new loan, and expenditures of $50,165. Why did they not include this detail?
Hallum’s campaign tells Arkansas Democrat Gazette the new $52,500 loan – which was listed on the first page of the report – was made by Fidelity National Bank of West Memphis, bringing the total amount loaned by this bank up to $61,000. That is huge loan for a state representative campaign. The campaign tells the ADG that this loan is secured by Hudson and his father, Kent. (Is this an excessive – over $2,000 – in-kind contribution? Seems like it.)
Regardless, we still do not have the details for their contributions and expenditures. As such, voters will not have the chance to know who funded Hallum’s campaign or how he spent his money until after they have cast their votes in today’s election. The Republican Party of Arkansas filed an ethics compliant on the matter yesterday, but even this has not caused the campaign to produce this information.
One expenditure on previous reports that has turned up quiet a few unanswered questions is a payment made to Leroy Grant, who told former Democratic candidate Kim Felker that he could assist her in obtaining absentee votes. Felker has the voicemail recording of this offer and an investigation is on-going by the state police.
Grant attempted to explain this in an article in today’s The Evening Times (the local paper in the district.) In the article, Grant says this is a "misunderstand."
"What had happened was I was helping out (former Democratic candidate Lorraine) Robinson with her absentees, and when she lost, some of the elderly folks told me they weren’t going to vote for (Hudson) Hallum, they would rather vote for Felker," Grant explained to The Evening Times. "I always help a lot of older folks with their votes. After Ms. Robinson lost, I asked Ms. Felker if she wanted help with absentees and she said she wasn’t working absentees, and I guess she wasn’t because she didn’t get very many."
That does not sound like a "misunderstanding" to me. It sounds like Grant just admitted to doing exactly what he was accused of doing, being paid to produce absentee ballots for whichever candidate hired him. Hallum won the run-off with Felker by 8 votes, but won the absentee ballot count 401 to 69. Hallum employed Grant during his campaign.
In today’s close three-way race between Hallum, Republican John Geelan, and independent candidate D’James "Two" Rogers, the absentee ballots will be something to watch. The Crittenden County Clerk’s office tells me that as of this morning they have received 602 absentee ballots of the 747 sent out – quite a high number for a special election.
For even more on this and to follow events from the ground throughout the day, check out local blog Crittenden County Arkansas.
UDPATE (1:00) The Secretary of State still does not have Hallum’s report and his campaign has not provided the details. In addition, sources on the ground in District 54 tell me that hundreds of absentee ballots are being challenged based on ineligibility.