LITTLE ROCK — A candidate for the state Supreme Court believes an out-of-state group’s involvement in his race has disturbing implications for the future of judicial elections in Arkansas.
The Law Enforcement Alliance of America, a 501(c)(4) organization, has made an ad buy in the state targeting Tim Cullen of Maumelle, who is running against Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne of Fordyce for the Supreme Court seat being vacated by retiring Justice Donald Corbin.
The ad, which began airing on Arkansas television stations late last week, accuses Cullen of believing that child pornography is a victimless crime. Cullen says the ad is false and raises concerns about the politicization of judicial elections.
The case referenced in the group’s ad is Leonard D’Andrea v. USA. D’Andrea pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of attempted enticement of a minor and one count of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
D’Andrea was arrested after traveling from Wyoming to Little Rock to have sex with an underage “girl” he had been chatting with online. In fact, he had been chatting with law officers posing as young girls. Authorities also found child pornography on D’Andrea’s computer.
While representing D’Andrea on appeal, Cullen submitted a brief in which he wrote that “defendant argues that his crimes were victimless.”
Cullen told the Arkansas News Bureau the argument referred to the fact that D’Andrea chatted online with law officers, not an actual young girl. He said the argument was a far cry from the ad’s claim that “Tim Cullen believes that childhood pornography is a victimless crime.”
“The ad is false. It attributes something to me that I never argued,” he said.
The Law Enforcement Alliance said Friday in an email to the Arkansas News Bureau that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis saw the argument as a claim that child pornography is victimless — and called it “specious.”
In its opinion rejecting the appeal, the court said, “The claim that (D’Andrea’s) crimes were victimless is specious at best. Although his crimes did not involve an individually identifiable victim, the inability to identify a child shown in pornographic images does not make the possession of child pornography a victimless crime.”
The Law Enforcement Alliance said in its email that “in his appellate brief, attorney Tim Cullen describes his client’s crimes as ‘victimless,’ not once, but three times, in an attempt to secure a reduced sentence for his client, a multi-count sexual offender.”
Cullen said the group is ignoring a basic principal of the American judicial system — the right of a criminal defendant to have a lawyer and to raise any available defense.
The group did not make anyone available to answer questions Friday about how much it spent on the ad or who its donors are. Cullen estimated that it spent about $200,000, based on his conversations with the television stations airing the ad.
Unlike political action committees, 501(c)(4) organizations do not have to disclose their donors, which has led to them being nicknamed “stealth PACs.”
“We’ll never know who (their donors) are or what their interest is or whether they even include any Arkansans,” Cullen said.
The phenomenon of an outside group pumping money into an Arkansas election to try to affect the outcome is nothing new, but Cullen said it is new for an Arkansas judicial race and does not bode well for the future of judicial elections in the state.
“These judicial races are supposed to be nonpartisan,” he said.
Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita State University, said other states have already seen outside groups get involved in their judicial races in recent election cycles.
It is becoming increasingly commonplace, he said, in part because of the way campaign finance laws work and in part because national political organizations have realized that national policy goals can be advanced by influencing local races — including judicial races.
Are outside money and attack ads more objectionable in judicial races than in other kinds of races? Bass said they may make people more uncomfortable because “there’s an appearance of a separation between politics and law, or politics and justice.”
“It also runs a little bit counter to the attempt we made a few years ago to go with nonpartisan judicial elections, to separate, if you will, judicial campaigns from the cares of party politics,” he said. “These groups coming in from outside are, in effect, giving the lie to that notion that you can separate judicial elections from, if not party politics, certainly ideological politics.”
Cullen said Wynne has assured him he had nothing to do with the ad. He said he has asked Wynne to make a public repudiation of the ad, but as of Friday he had not seen one from the judge.
Wynne did not immediately return a call Friday seeking comment.
The nonpartisan judicial election will be May 20, the same day as the party primaries. Early voting began May 5.