Ethics complaint filed against Pope County pro-casino group

Saturday 22nd February 2020

The Arkansas Ethics Commission is investigating a complaint filed by a Russellville woman against the pro-casino Facebook group Pope County Majority and its leader Kelly Jett.

Teresa Harris of Russellville, who owns rental properties, said Friday that she filed the complaint that alleges Pope County Majority and Jett violated state ethics laws.

Harris said she has been opposed to having a casino in Pope County, but she wants to make sure that if a casino is built and operated there, it's "an upscale facility that complements the aesthetics of Pope County."

Harris alleged that Pope County Majority and Kelly are operating as an unregistered political action committee or ballot question committee, that the group has provided campaign signs to at least two candidates and published cards endorsing multiple candidates in the 2020 elections.

[RELATED: See complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of casinos in Arkansas at arkansasonline.com/casinos]

Harris also charged that the group's activities appear to be funded by undisclosed donors.

Graham Sloan, director of the Ethics Commission, said in a letter dated Feb. 13 about Harris' complaint that the focus of the commission's investigation will be whether Jett and/or Pope County Majority violated state law by making one or more in-kind contributions to candidates and failing to comply with political action committee registration and reporting requirements.

The investigation also will look into whether Jett and/or Pope County Majority violated the registration and reporting requirements under state law by making independent expenditures to expressly advocate the election of one or more candidates, Sloan said in the letter.

The investigation also will delve into whether Jett and/or Pope County Majority received contributions or made expenditures expressly advocating passage or defeat of a question presented to voters, he wrote in his letter.

In response to the ethics complaint, Jett said Friday in a written statement that "exactly like neighborhood associations and civic organizations, Pope County Majority is an unincorporated association from and for the community.

"It does not donate to candidates, nor was it formed for a particular local election," she said. "Instead, it is made up of caring volunteers who talk about issues.

"We're glad that neighborhood associations and community groups like ours are not political action committees in Arkansas and can engage in issue speech, because we don't want Washington D.C.-style politics of personal attacks in our areas," Jett said in a written statement. "What's next--outlawing pancake suppers, fish fries and barbecues because politics is getting discussed? We're glad Arkansas has sensible laws that we are proud to follow."

Jett's attorney, Chris Burks, said none of the companies that are seeking the casino license in Pope County from the Arkansas Racing Commission have contributed money to Pope County Majority.

"Kelly Jett spent her own money on a campaign sign for a candidate she supports," Burks said in a written statement.

Five companies have applied for the license, but the Racing Commission has rejected applicants. The matter is now in circuit court.

Information for this article was contributed by Jeannie Roberts of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 02/22/2020

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