Runoff race gets nasty between GOP Attorney General candidates

story by Roby Brock, a TCW content partner and owner of Talk Business

Leslie Rutledge and David Sterling are in a full-fledged street brawl with a week to go in their run-off for the GOP Attorney General nomination.

The two Republicans have taken potshots at each other for weeks questioning each others’ conservative credentials and political experience. In addition, third party groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the race.

Rutledge led the ticket in the May 20 Republican primary with 47% of the vote, while Sterling finished the night with 39% support heading into a June 10 statewide run-off.

On Sunday (June 1), Sterling rolled out new charges that Rutledge had voted in Democratic primaries from 1998 through 2008, had not voted in any state elections in 2010 and 2012, and had donated to the Democratic Party of Arkansas at one time in the past.

Rutledge fired back saying Sterling represented in his legal practice a company peddling pornography, an act she says contradicts his Christian and family values platform as well as should be troubling for someone seeking office to oversee a division dedicated to Internet predators.

Also in the mix, a new six-figure wave of TV, radio and web ads and direct mail pieces claiming Rutledge is against a “stand your ground” law — a charge she denies. The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) is paying for the media which also states Rutledge holds the same position as Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and it touts support for Sterling’s candidacy. Sterling denies coordinating with the group and says there is nothing inaccurate in the JCN claims.

Rutledge has also picked up the endorsement of the May 20 GOP primary third-place finisher, Patricia Nation. The winner of the run-off faces Democrat Nate Steel and Libertarian Aaron Cash in the November general election.


Rutledge says she did vote in those Democratic primaries on her record — some in Independence County, some in Pulaski County. In the earlier years, she voted for Democratic friends and colleagues running for prosecutor positions and judgeships when Arkansas had partisan elections in those offices and Republican primaries were largely limited to Northwest Arkansas. Judicial elections became non-partisan in 2002, while prosecutors just moved to non-partisan status in the 2014 cycle.

Rutledge’s voting history, obtained through public records from the Pulaski County Clerk’s office, shows she did vote in the 2008 GOP Presidential primary (she says she cast a vote for Mike Huckabee) as well as this year’s 2014 primary. She consistently voted in general elections from 1996 through 2008.

In 2010 and 2012, Rutledge is not listed in Arkansas records as voting. She says she was out-of-state working for the Republican National Committee and its ancillary organizations. She also contends she voted in Virginia while working for the RNC during those years.

“While I was bleeding Republican blood in the heat of battle against the Obama/Pelosi liberal agenda as Counsel at the Republican National Committee and spending much of my time there, I voted in Virginia for all Republican candidates,” Rutledge told Talk Business & Politics. “The reason why Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were on the ballot in all 50 states is because I was the lawyer who handled that for the RNC and Romney for President — working with all 50 Secretaries of State, preparing and filing the forms signed by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner.”

Sterling has also pointed out that Rutledge made a contribution to the Democratic Party of Arkansas in 2007. Records show that Rutledge did contribute $104.50 to the DPA early that year, which she says was her payment for a ticket to Gov. Mike Beebe’s inaugural ball.

Rutledge said she was a state employee at the Department of Human Services at the time and, post-election, she bought the ticket and was unaware that the money would be routed through the DPA. She said she gave money to and supported Asa Hutchinson’s gubernatorial bid in the 2006 election cycle.

There are other high-profile Republicans on the 134-page DPA report with similar 2007 inaugural contributions, including Daryl Bassett, Carl Bayne, Julie Benafield Bowman, and J.J. Vignault — all of whom worked in and for the Gov. Mike Huckabee administration.

“In 2007, I was an attorney for the State of Arkansas going to court with foster children. I had worked tirelessly for Asa Hutchinson in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, but because I was an attorney for the State and Mike Beebe had won, I bought a ticket to attend the Gubernatorial Inaugural Ball which is much different than an outright contribution to a political party,” Rutledge said.

She added that she traveled the state for Hutchinson in 2006, would go to his campaign headquarters at lunch and after work hours, and took personal vacation time from her state job to volunteer in his unsuccessful effort. and other Arkansas Ethics Commission filings note that Rutledge has also financially contributed through the years to GOP candidates including George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee, Asa Hutchinson, Tim Griffin, the Arkansas GOP, and some state representative candidates. No Democratic candidates appear through an OpenSecrets search.

“I have contributed to countless Republican committees and candidates over the years,” Rutledge said. “There are no public records of Sterling contributing to any Republican candidate.”

Sterling does not show up in any searches on nor in any cursory review of other candidate contribution reports. When asked about his contributions history, he reiterated that he has never given to Democrats, but didn’t speak to the absence of Republican contributions.

Sterling’s voting history, provided by the Pulaski County Clerk’s office, shows he has voted in Republican primaries from 2000 through 2014. He did not vote in the 1998 primary election in Pulaski County, but his 1996 history shows he voted in a primary and run-off election that year.

Clerk’s records don’t indicate in which political primary he cast his ballot in 1996, but there was a Presidential primary combined with a U.S. Senate race and Second District Congressional races that year. The Democratic and Republican primaries went to run-offs that spring with Bud Cummins winning the GOP nomination and Vic Snyder earning the Democratic nod for Congress. Winston Bryant defeated Lu Hardin in the Senate Democratic primary.

“I have always voted in a Republican primary. I was living in Hope during the primary in the spring of 1998, serving as the Assistant City Manager. I voted in the Republican primary that year in Hempstead County. I moved back to Pulaski County in the fall of 1998 and voted there in the General,” Sterling said in an email to Talk Business & Politics.

Rutledge has charged that Sterling’s legal representation of Cupid’s Lingerie, an adult novelty store with six retail locations in central Arkansas, was a client he should have declined. According to its web site, Cupid’s sells “adult novelties & toys, lingerie, vibrators, sexy nightwear, sex toys, and costumes.” A review of the web site also shows that Cupid’s sells XXX movies by DVD and on-demand.

Sterling represented Cupid’s in a 2009 lawsuit against former employees that it claimed stole company secrets while opening up their own competing shop. Revelations of his representation led to the “un-endorsement” of conservative TV patriarch and former State Sen. Jim Bob Duggar back during the primary.

“Due to new revelations and recent developments the Duggar family has decided to withdraw its endorsement of David Sterling in the 2014 race for Arkansas Attorney General. The family wishes both candidates well, but will not be making any endorsement at this time,” the family said through a spokesman in late March.

When asked by email why he took Cupid’s as a client and if it conflicted with his conservative or Christian views, Sterling did not directly address the questions.

“Rutledge is launching a personal attack on me regarding a private business matter from five years ago. She’s doing this in a desperate attempt to avoid explaining why she voted in five Democrat primaries and even gave money to the Democrat Party of Arkansas,” Sterling wrote.

“This race is about which candidate can most effectively use the Attorney General’s office to protect state authority and individual liberty from an overreaching Obama Administration. My opponent has a record of voting for Democrats and donating to the Democrat Party. I have a record of consistently voting for Republicans and have never donated to the Democrat Party. As Attorney General, I will fight to rein in an overreaching federal government,” he added.

The volleys look certain to amplify in the coming days.

In response to the JCN attack ads, Rutledge’s campaign has denounced the accusations. Previously, she stated her position on the “stand your ground” law that the ad accuses her of being soft on. She said she thinks current statutes already address concerns. Rutledge has indicated she would be willing to work with the state legislature to make it even stricter as long as it was done in an “accurate, unambiguous, and constitutionally sound” manner.

Wes Manus, a spokesman for Rutledge, fired back on the claims that his candidate has a similar position to former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, which the JCN ads claim.

“The people of Arkansas know Leslie Rutledge worked tirelessly as Counsel at the Republican National Committee to fire Nancy Pelosi. And, while Leslie was working 14-hour days fighting Obama and Pelosi’s liberal agenda, her opponent was filing a lawsuit in Pulaski County to help one of Arkansas’s largest pornography distributors, Cupids Lingerie,” he said.

Sterling has kept his latest messaging focused on Rutledge’s voter history.

“David Sterling has a 100% Republican primary voting record, and he has never contributed to the Democrat Party. Leslie Rutledge likes to talk about her party credentials, but the facts are that Rutledge has voted for Democrats and contributes money to the Democrat Party,” he said in an email to supporters and the media.

When asked if they would support the eventual Republican nominee or if they might consider the Democratic or Libertarian candidates in the race, neither candidate provided a response.