The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Mike Wickline continues his fine tradition of digging into the tangled web of state Treasurer Martha Shoffner’s campaign finances (subscription required). What a horrible mess they are!
The latest beef on Shoffner is that she accepted a $10,000 check from New York law firm Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLC, which was reportedly intended to represent five separate contributions of $2,000 each from firm employees. The legality of this is a gray area, according to the state ethics honcho quoted in the ADG piece, but Shoffner ultimately returned the contribution anyway.
The angle of Wickline’s story that’s most intriguing is the fact that Kaplan Fox holds a state contract for “securities monitoring” with the state teacher retirement system, where Shoffner sits on the board of trustees. One hand washes the other, etc. (More from the Arkansas Times’ Max Brantley right here).
That cozy arrangement calls to mind this post from last week, where we looked at a Manhattan Institute report detailing how the trial attorneys lobby has captured millions upon millions of dollars by partnering with state attorneys general in class action suits. Private law firms sign on to handle the legwork on state class action suits against pharmaceutical manufacturers, securities companies and others; pocket millions of dollars in contingency fees; and make handsome contributions to the campaign accounts of various attorneys general.
It’s a cozy cycle of mutual support they got there, and it looks as if the same dynamic is at work in state treasurers’ offices.
Let’s stipulate that I don’t normally find campaign finance stories particularly compelling. Campaign finance laws are complex and murky; the charges of violations are frequently extremely petty. And I can’t always muster much outrage over what too often ends up amounting to paperwork errors, what with all the other things over which I’m trying so hard to sustain outrage.
But the sheer number of irregularities and infractions in Shoffner’s case makes me wonder if I shouldn’t reconsider that stance. It certainly doesn’t do much to reinforce confidence in Shoffner’s managerial acumen when it comes to her official duties, which include managing billions of dollars in state money and, for some reason, running an art gallery in her office.