Earlier this month, the Blue Hog blog suggested that state Senate candidate Chad Neill had been running his jail-commissary business illegally for several years – more precisely, that he had failed, for several years, to get the license that the state requires to do business. Neill campaign spokesman Keith Emis struck back, insisting repeatedly on Twitter that Blue Hog had made multiple errors in its coverage, and finally noting pointedly that “Reporters get fact-checked before going to press. Political hacks throw out innuendo and hope it sticks.”
I’m not a court; I’m not even a lawyer. I don’t have the time or the resources to opine on every technical dispute between an opionionator and a candidate. But Blue Hog’s charges start to look better-grounded after last night’s KAIT story that Chad Niell had, one week ago, received an agreed-upon fine of $21,000 by the Arkansas Securities Department. KAIT then interviewed Emis, who stated that he didn’t know anything about the fine.
This raises two key questions:
1. In the statement that Neill’s campaign originally released in response to Blue Hog’s charges, Niell argued that his business had been “assured” by state government that no license would be needed. Blue Hog then contacted the state Securities Department, only to find that there was no record of any such assurance. In the consent order, Niell admitted that he had unintentionally been doing business without a license in Arkansas since 2010. If Niell had really been assured that he wouldn’t need a license, he’d have a strong defense against any accusation of illegal activity. If Niell was telling the truth about the assurances he received, why did he sign the consent order?
2. What should Keith Emis, Niell’s spokesman, be expected to know about Chad Niell’s business affairs? Is Emis’s job to understand Niells’s perspective and explain it to the public? If so, when Emis explains that he “did not know about this fine,” isn’t Emis failing to do his job? Alternatively, is it part of a campaign spokesman’s job to shield himself from knowledge about the candidate? Presumably, while Emis was castigating the Blue Hog blog as the work of “political hacks,” Niell was simultaneously negotiating the consent decree: was it a deliberate strategy on Niell’s part to keep Emis in the dark? Or is this an effort on the part of Emis to maintain deniability? When a campaign spokesman starts to sound like Sergeant Shultz from Hogan’s Heroes, intoning “I see nothing! I know nothing!”, has something gone wrong somewhere?
I can’t help thinking that these kind of statements, and these kind of business and campaign arrangements, are not ordinarily what you’d expect from a “no-nonsense, honest guy.”