Complaints alleging campaign finance violations in the reports of Arkansas’ two GOP state treasurer candidates were submitted to the state ethics commission this month, according to documents obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
State Representative Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, and State Senator Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, will contest the Republican nomination for the constitutional post in the May 24 primary.
A complaint filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission on April 4 alleges that Pitsch overpaid himself for campaign mileage, while a complaint filed with the commission on Monday alleges that Lowery filed reports of misleading or incomplete campaign finance and that he did not report a bankruptcy filing in 2017. that he is in the process of settling his declarations of financial interests.
Arkansas Ethics Commission Director Graham Sloan said he could not confirm the existence of the complaints because the law requires the commission to keep open issues confidential.
Sloan said that all violations of laws within the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission result in the same penalties, which may include the issuance of a public letter of warning, warning or reprimand and/or the imposition of a fine ranging from $50 to $3,500.
The lawsuit against Pitsch was filed by Adam Key, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Reached by phone Tuesday, Key said Lowery, whom he knows from debate contests, told him about problems with Pitsch’s campaign finance reports. Key said he was not a Republican or part of Lowery’s campaign, but dug into the issues himself because of his own interest in ethics and good government.
The complaint says Pitsch reimbursed itself for mileage at a higher rate than state employees. According to Sloan, candidates are allowed to be reimbursed for campaign-related travel at the state employee rate, which was 42 cents per mile but was temporarily increased to 52 cents per mile in March.
In campaign finance reports covering April 2021 through February 2022, Pitsch said it reimbursed itself for mileage at a rate of 52 cents per mile in 2021 and 58 cents per mile in 2022. Pitsch announced that it would run for state treasurer in February 2021.
Pitsch called the complaint a political attack on Lowery.
“My initial response is that it’s nothing more than a bait and switch from my opponent,” he said by phone Wednesday.
Stu Soffer, a former member of the Board of State Election Commissioners and the Jefferson County Board of Elections, filed the complaint regarding Lowery’s reports. Soffer said he had “no affiliation” with either campaign and no one asked him to file the complaint but was “concerned about good government”.
“I just read a few things, did some research, and thought, what is this,” Soffer said. “These are public records, people are talking, and I just have time to look at them.”
Soffer’s complaint says Lowery’s financial reports appear to contain “materially misleading” or incomplete dollar amounts for the beginning and end of the reporting periods. Soffer also said that Lowery failed to meet filing deadlines and that none of his declarations of financial interests listed debts to creditors despite the fact that Lowery was in the process of resolving a bankruptcy filing in 2017.
Lowery launched a bid for secretary of state in June 2021, then pivoted to the race for treasurer in January.
Records available on the Secretary of State’s website confirm that Lowery has not filed bankruptcy on any of the declarations of financial interests he has filed since 2018, and show that two of the three campaign finance reports that ‘he filed in his candidacy for Secretary of State were turned in after the deadline. The two campaign finance reports he filed for his bid for treasurer on Friday night were filed on time, according to online records.
In his last report for the Secretary of State’s race filed in February, Lowery reported a balance of $10,289.32. In his first report for the Treasurer’s Race, filed a day later, he reported a starting balance of $50,289.32 at the start of the reporting period.
Lowery previously told the Democrat-Gazette that his campaign balance for treasurer at the end of February includes his postponement of his 2020 campaign for State House as well as donor contributions to his former campaign secretary of state who authorized the transfer of their contributions to his campaign for treasurer.
Given the complaint, Lowery said he would reserve comment until he contacts the ethics commission.
“The complaint is so full of factual inaccuracies and allegations that bear no relation to the truth that I will reserve comment until I have met with Ethics Commission staff and a possible request for hearing before the Commission to refute the complaint,” he said in an email.
Lowery added that his opponent’s “sycophant” supporters were using a “kitchen sink” strategy of issuing bogus ethics complaints to distract from Pitsch’s case.
Pitsch said his campaign did not ask Soffer to press charges.
“We had nothing to do with anything like this,” he said.
The Arkansas Treasurer is the state’s banker and manages an investment portfolio of over $5 billion. The incumbent is paid $95,693.76 per year. The incumbent, Republican Dennis Milligan, is a term-limited candidate for state auditor.
Early voting for the primary begins May 9 and the deadline to register to vote in this election is April 25. The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Pam Whitaker of Little Rock in November’s general election.