LITTLE ROCK — Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on Monday announced a $350,000 public awareness campaign entitled “Got Your Back, Arkansas to promote his office’s Consumer Protection Division.
The announcement drew criticism from Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, a Republican and potential 2014 gubernatorial opponent of McDaniel who accused the Democratic attorney general of running what amount to political campaign ads at public expense.
McDaniel, widely expected to run for governor in 2014, denied the charge through spokesmen.
McDaniel said the promotional campaign will use newspaper, television and radio ads and a new website to publicize the services available through the Consumer Protection Division. The ads began appearing statewide Monday and are scheduled to run through the end of May.
Visitors to the website will find tips for avoiding scams, information about their rights as consumers and links to other resources. They also can submit complaints to the division through the site and sign up to receive consumer alerts.
“We’re going to go to the consumers of this state rather than just waiting for them to come to us,” McDaniel said during a news conference at his office.
Funding for the campaign comes from an $18.5 million settlement the attorney general’s office reached with Eli Lilly in 2010 over what the state alleged was marketing of the drug Zyprexa for uses not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Darr said Monday on his personal Twitter account, “I wish my office had millions at its disposal to run my campaign ads.”
Darr also tweeted, “It’s nice to know that Gov’t official(s) ‘got your back’ but unfortunately they really ‘got your back pocket.’”
McDaniel spokesman Blake Rutherford said Monday, “The only thing political here is that kind of uninformed criticism. The role of AGs all across the nation is to advocate for consumers. With this initiative, Arkansas is setting a new standard with the quality of information we provide to consumers, and we invite all Arkansans to view it and compare it with other states. We think that Arkansans are going to be proud of what they see.”
McDaniel’s voice is not heard in the ads, and the television ad includes no video of him — though his name and face do appear on the screen.
Rep. Andrea Lea, R-Russellville, said Monday the campaign sounds like a worthy project, but she questioned whether it is consistent with the rules of the Eli Lilly settlement and whether McDaniel accepted bids from advertisers for the project.
Aaron Sadler, another McDaniel spokesman, said the campaign is consistent with the settlement. He said the ads were produced by Stone Ward Advertising of Little Rock, which was one of three companies that submitted proposals for the project.
During this year’s fiscal legislative session, Lea temporarily held up the budget for the attorney general’s office, saying she wanted more information about how McDaniel determined the way that a $39.4 million settlement with the nation’s largest mortgage companies would be distributed. She said Monday she has concerns about the extent of McDaniel’s discretion in distributing settlement funds.
“Do I have a problem with him determining where it goes solely on his own? Yes. I think there needs to be more oversight,” she said.
In the 2010 legislative session, Rep. Jane English, R-Sherwood, filed a bill that would have given the Legislature more control over disbursements of the attorney general’s settlements. The bill died in a House committee. McDaniel said that since he took office in 2007, the Consumer Protection Division has helped consumers recover more than $8.5 million. He said he hopes the awareness campaign will reach Arkansans who may have been defrauded but are not aware that help is available.
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