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Monday, December 12, 2005 

Common sense takes a vacation in Beebe campaign

By David Sanders

One might think that common sense stemming from a fear of breaking the law would be enough to prevent a public employee from using his or her time and/or state-issued equipment for campaign related activities.

Judging from what I discovered on Mike Beebe's gubernatorial campaign Web site and the response from his campaign, common sense can take a vacation.

If one were to go onto the Web site (www.mikebeebe.com) and click on the text "Mike Beebe for Governor Press Kit," under the press section, one would be directed to a list of downloadable documents. After downloading the documents onto one's computer, one could drag the cursor over these particular documents.

In doing so, it would be revealed that the author of the document, titled "Beebe Speech Final," is none other than "ARAG" - as in Arkansas attorney general.

I went through the drill several times. It is worth mentioning that David Eichenbaum's name popped up on the other documents, which makes sense. He is Beebe's political consultant.

Monday afternoon, I called Beebe's campaign, hoping someone could clarify what I had observed. What computer was used to write the speech? Was it a state-issued computer? Was it a campaign computer? Was it a personal computer? Did the attorney general or a member of his staff violate the law?

Chris Masingill, Beebe's campaign manager, said he would find out. I also called the state attorney general's office seeking clarification.

Masingill called back Wednesday, indicating that a state computer had been used to write the campaign speech.

"It appears that the day before the official launch, an attorney general's office staff member used a computer at the attorney general's office after hours to make final changes to the general's (campaign) announcement speech," Masingill said.

He did not know which staff member used the state computer to work on the speech. He emphasized that members of Beebe's campaign did not use any state facilities or equipment to write any part of the speech.

"General Beebe has reminded all members of his attorney general staff not to use any state equipment for any work connected to the Mike Beebe for Governor campaign," he said. "This was very much an isolated incident; the policy has been reinforced by the attorney general himself."

Monday, a state Ethics Commission staff member said that the commission has issued opinions dealing with elected officials, or employees on the public payroll, using public property for campaign purposes.

The staffer pointed me to the law. The rules governing Arkansas public employees' time and use of public property for campaigning are fairly straightforward.

Arkansas Code 7-1-103 (a)(2) states: "It shall be unlawful for any public servant ... to devote any time or labor during usual office hours toward the campaign of any other candidate for office or for the nomination to any office."

Section (a)(3) states: "It shall be unlawful for any public servant ... to use any office or room furnished at public expense to distribute any letters, circulars, or other campaign materials unless such office or room is regularly used by members of the public for such purposes without regard to political affiliation. It shall further be unlawful for any public servant to use for campaign purposes any item of personal property provided with public funds."

Masingill thanked me for pointing out what I had found and indicated that the problems had been fixed.

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