Commotion in the 3rd District?
Reports of campaign signs vanishing in the Third Congressional District have caused a stir among the many candidates gearing up for the Republican primary on May 18.
According to a “concerned citizen” who’s name won’t be revealed here as he doesn’t want to get tangled up in this story, an individual was spotted setting up “Womack for Congress” campaign signs on Monday in various vacant lots on U.S. 71-Business between Springdale and Bentonville. The aforementioned citizen got interested in what took place as the individual was reportedly removing signs belonging to Republicans running for the 3rd District seat — he followed the vehicle, took out his camera and started taking pictures.
Some of those photographs were sent to First Arkansas News. They depict the vehicle carrying campaign signs in a trailer advertising for Republican Steve Womack’s campaign. The photos were initially emailed to Womack and the other Republican candidates in the race — Cecile Bledsoe, Gunner DeLay, Steve Lowry, Kurt Maddox, Doug Matayo, Mike Moore and Bernie Skoch.
It appears from the emails that the lone Democrat in the race, David Whitaker, was left out of the loop.
The photos obtained by First Arkansas News clearly depict Womack’s signs in the trailer along with those belonging to opponents Bledsoe and Skoch.
In addition to photographs, an email allegedly from Womack to the aforementioned Republican challengers was provided to First Arkansas News. That email was promptly followed by a Freedom of Information Act request to Womack’s office for email records dating back to March 1. That request prompted a phone call from Womack.
Womack confirmed that he sent out an email apologizing for the actions of his campaign worker and said he sent that from his office address. Womack is the mayor of Rogers. When asked if other emails of a campaign-related nature were sent could be provided, Womack said he might have some of those stored on his computer but couldn’t be sure because he receives and generates a high volume of email and tends to delete correspondence once he has no further use for it.
The Freedom of Information act was dropped by First Arkansas News at that point. Our primary goal was to establish that one particular email was legitimate — Womack said it was and that’s good enough for us.
The contents of the email in question are, in part, as follows:
I received information this afternoon that my campaign had been involved in the removal of opponents’ signage in the Fort Smith area. Immediately upon hearing about it, I contacted the only person working in Fort Smith that had a trailer as identified. His name is Lewis Kaslow of Bentonville, a supporter of mine and a Viet Nam Combat Marine. He’s a great guy.
He admitted that at the direction of property owner Benny Westphal, he did, in fact, take down some signs that Benny said were unauthorized and wished to have removed. I want you to know that I had absolutely no knowledge of this situation until alerted by another campaign. Lewis now knows how damaging this can be to a campaign and is truly apologetic for his involvement. I know this man—and he would never intentionally do harm to another campaign and he regrets his participation. He was simply acting at the direction of the owner of the property.
I have directed Lewis to make contact with the campaigns involved and dutifully return the signage for reuse elsewhere. …
…I apologize for the involvement of one of my campaign volunteers. It was truly an error in judgment—no malice intended. I have enjoyed this campaign—even despite the ups and downs—and look forward to seeing each of you in the coming days.
That email was attached to a response from an email purportedly sent by the Mike Moore campaign and forwarded to First Arkansas News. It’s important to point out that particular email was not provided to First Arkansas News by the the Moore campaign. Regardless, here is the response, in part:
Thank you for that information and clearing up any misunderstanding. I would like to point something out, however, the photos from today of signs being removed were taken in NWA along 71b. I am unclear as to whether the person removing signs in Ft. Smith was the same person who was removing signs between Bentonville and Springdale. …
DeLay said he’s not overly concerned about whether the signs in question were removed in northwest Arkansas or Fort Smith and said he’s willing to consider that the signs were taken without Womack’s knowledge. One thing that does trouble him, however, is the fact the emails were sent from Womack’s mayoral email address and suggested that could potentially run afoul of the Arkansas Political Practices Act (A.C.A. §§7-1-101-104).
That act, in §7-103(a)(3)(A), prohibits officials from using public property in political campaigns. DeLay, former Sebastian County prosecutor, said he’s prosecuted at least one official under that act in the past and said officials tend to bend over backwards to avoid violating it.
“No government property can be used for political purposes,” DeLay said. “Everybody knows that.”
Womack, however, said he believed sending the email in question was pressing as there were a number of issues he wanted to resolve as soon as possible. He said the email was sent after he was off the clock and on the way to an event — he believes that using his mayoral address to put some questions to rest does not violate the spirit of the act.
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.