Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

EDITORIAL >> What’s politics without hypocrisy?

No democracy and no political party can dispense fully with hypocrisy, but we thought the Arkansas Republican Party engineered more of it than one small group should be permitted in a single week.

First, the party condemned Attorney General Mike Beebe, until recently the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for governor in 2006, for going wobbly on the energy companies. Gasoline and heating bills are going up, up, up and the Republican headquarters wanted consumers to know that Beebe was at least partly responsible. Specifically, he had allowed Entergy Corp. to ask for a big rate increase for residential customers and then to put part of the increase into effect on Oct. 1 on an emergency basis while it awaits a hearing and determination by the state Public Service Commission.

Now, it is true that Beebe in his long years in the state Senate has been a friend to the light company more often than a tribune of the ratepayers, and he will have to answer for that. Realizing, like the Republicans, that energy costs are a volatile political issue, Beebe called on energy companies — gas and electric — to hold down their prices this winter no matter what their wholesale and energy-acquisition costs are. When the Republicans attacked, Beebe bragged that his little utility division had helped get tens of millions of dollars in rate reductions for consumers since he became attorney general.

But the specifics were illuminating. Beebe asked the PSC to order a reduction in the emergency rates that Entergy put into effect because the utility should not punish ratepayers for problems the company had with railroads that contracted to deliver coal to the utility’s Arkansas generating plants. The Republican office said that Beebe should have opposed the rate request if he thought it was not justified. When the party was told that he had indeed filed his opposition, only after it took effect, it said he should have opposed it earlier.
The problem with all this is that the attorney general has little to do with utility rates.

He can oppose them, to the same effect as can you. The agency that does set the rates is the Public Service Commission, whose commissioners were appointed by the governor and whose staff serves at the governor’s pleasure. On the recommendation of the PSC staff, which said Entergy should be allowed to install the emergency rates, the PSC went along with the utility.

Did the Republican Party condemn Gov. Huckabee or his Republican team at the PSC? Not as of when we went to press. Huckabee has been as chummy with the energy companies as Beebe. The party, when pressed, said it had no position itself on whether people should pay higher rates for electricity.

On the same day as it was lambasting Beebe for being soft on the power company, the Republican headquarters said it had filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission against Jimmie Lou Fisher, the losing Democratic candidate for governor in 2002 because some people who gave money to retire her campaign debt wound up giving more than the $1,000 limit per person for a campaign. The excess gifts, the GOP said, amounted to $15,853. Some 25 contributors, including U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder, gave more than the limit.

Snyder’s gift was long ago adjudicated. He gave money to Fisher’s campaign in the 2002 party primary and the check did not get recorded in campaign accounts until after the primary election, which made it appear to be a general-election contribution.

Two days later, Gov. Huckabee piled on. He was outraged that people may have exceeded the individual contribution limits to a Democrat. He wanted punishment exacted for such inexcusable violations. Sloppy bookkeeping is not a valid excuse, he said. He would be watching what the Ethics Commission did with the complaint.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story reporting the governor’s outrage gallantly did not resurrect this from the newspaper’s own files on April 29, a mere five months earlier:

“The Republican Party of Arkansas has agreed to pay a sum of $360,000 civil penalty within the next six months for violations of federal campaign finance law during the 2000 election cycle, the Federal Election Commission said last Thursday.

“The FEC found that the party accepted excessive contributions and failed to properly report finances.
“The penalty represents the largest fine ever levied by the FEC against a state political party, a commission spokesman said ... The FEC said it found that the state GOP:

“‘Failed to properly account for more than $2 million in media and other expenses during the 1999-2000 election cycle. That failure resulted in excessive use of nonfederal or “soft money” for those expenses.
“‘Failed to properly report more than $600,000 in transfers received from Republican national party committees.
“‘Failed to disclose specific information about a “significant proportion” of its contributions and spending during this period.

“‘Received $28,500 during the period in excessive contributions from individuals and $11,500 in contributions that were from sources prohibited under the Federal Election Campaign Act.

“‘A previous FEC audit of the party during the 2000 election cycle found that the party spent $331,021 more than allowed on the 2000 campaign of Republican U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey of Pine Bluff. Dickey was unseated by Democrat Mike Ross of Prescott in a close race for the state’s 4th congressional district seat.’”
You never know when memories will fail. The paper’s omission of that little background in its coverage proves again that while hypocrisy does have its wages, truth goes a-beggin’.