Notes from the Campaign Trail: Dark money stirs accusations in Supreme Court Chief Justice race

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 250 views 

Editor’s note: Notes from the Campaign Trail is a compilation of various political insider tidbits and is sponsored by Little Rock-based Capitol Advisors Group. 

DARK MONEY STIRS ACCUSATIONS IN SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE RACE: A new independent expenditure ad, underwritten by the Judicial Crisis Network, led to back-and-forth comments from the two candidate campaigns vying for the Supreme Court Chief Justice seat. JCN is airing a 30-second ad that highlights candidate Courtney Goodson’s disclosure of money and gifts she’s received since joining the state’s high court.

The ad, which is underwritten with at least a $433,000 statewide buy, promotes a $50,000 trip Goodson disclosed from an attorney who is a friend of her husband, lawyer John Goodson. It also cites donations Goodson has received from law firms totaling $142,000. Law firms and attorneys give heavily to judicial races. The ad also portrays Goodson as “an insider.” You can view it here.

In addition to making comments on her web site and social media, Goodson released a statement regarding the ad, which said:

“Dan Kemp and his political allies are sinking over a half million dollars into a coordinated effort to silence me. His Washington insiders — with secret donors and a secret agenda — are running these ads. If Dan Kemp lacks the integrity to stop them, its a sign to every secret interest group in the country that Arkansas’ courts are for sale. Outside groups are not welcome in this race, and Dan Kemp should stop using dark money to buy a seat on our Supreme Court.”

Kemp’s campaign responded to the allegation with a quote from campaign manager Erin Brogdon:

“First, we have been focused on running our own race and running our own ads that are up on TV today. We are holding meet-and-greets all across this state raising money, meeting voters, and building support. Second, we’ve never met with anyone from the Judicial Crisis Network. The response is a soundbite that one of Ms. Goodson’s many political consultants and supporters who reside outside of the state of Arkansas have told her to say in order to distract voters from the truth. If Ms. Goodson has a problem with the facts of the ad, she needs to take that up with the Judicial Crisis Network.”

The Judicial Crisis Network is no stranger to Arkansas, even though the origins of its money are not known. JCN spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in TV advertising tying then-Republican Attorney General candidate Leslie Rutledge to gun control policies advocated by Pres. Obama.

FORMER AG McDANIEL FILES AS LOBBYIST: With a cooling off period behind him, former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has registered as a lobbyist in Arkansas and was sworn in as a member of the Bar in the District of Columbia on Monday. Through his law firm of McDaniel, Richardson and Calhoun, McDaniel listed his lobbying clients as AT&T, Acxiom, XCaliber Tobcco International, Facebook, Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District, ADT, Cigna Insurance, Yelp, Capital Car Service and Calhoun Farms.

“We are excited to expand our firm’s statewide and national practice,” McDaniel said. “We do much more than just litigation. Our clients need sophisticated, strategic counsel in a multi-faceted governmental practice.”

HIDING IN THE POLL NUMBERS: There were a few nuggets behind the toplines released in the latest round of polling from Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College. For starters, 79% of likely GOP voters in Arkansas self-described themselves as “Evangelical Christians.” That certainly explains the performance of Ted Cruz (27%), Ben Carson (11%) and Marco Rubio (23%) – all of whom have actively appealed to a Christian voter base.

Another note is adding up the combined percentages of the “non-establishment” candidates in the GOP field. Between Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina, the four Republicans account for 65% of the GOP vote, if the poll numbers are indeed a reflection of the primary electorate.

On the Democratic side, one of the most interesting numbers in the poll were feelings toward Pres. Obama. There have been some past results in TB&P-Hendrix polling where Obama has struggled with not only Republicans and Independents, but even Democrats. In the current numbers, Obama has a 61.5% positive rating from state Democrats with 27.5% negative. Of the 61.5% positive, “very positive” accounted for 45.5%. Of the 27.5% negative, 23.5% was “very negative.”

The numbers would suggest a definite pride in Obama for Democrats despite the price paid in the last three election cycles where his name has been negatively tied to nearly every Democratic candidate at every level. Anecdotal feedback from Democrats ranges from proof that Obamacare has improved health care in the country and the current stronger state of the economy (low gas prices, falling unemployment, etc.).

HILLARY’S HEADQUARTERS OPENS: Hillary Clinton’s campaign officially opened its office on Monday evening. The location is at 323 Center St., Suite 101 in downtown Little Rock. The office will serve as a headquarters for organizers and volunteers to plan and launch phone banks, meetings, and canvasses.