McDaniel dogged despite outreach

It is symptomatic of our political process. Arkansas State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced a public awareness program earlier this week titled, “Got Your Back, Arkansas” to promote the Consumer Protection Division of his office. The program has a considerable price tag at $350,000. While this tariff is admittedly high, it’s hardly alarming by the current standards of government spending. 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.

As reported by the Arkansas News Bureau, the promotional campaign will use newspaper, television and radio ads as well as a new website to publicize services available through the CPD. 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.

During a new conference to inaugurate the program, McDaniel stated, “We’re going to go to the consumers of this state rather than just waiting for them to come to us.” This kind of outreach is exactly what we should expect of our attorney general. It is proactive. It is designed to make the apparatuses of government more accessible and it promotes consumer safety.

Predictably, not everybody sees it that way, hence the “symptomatic” quality of it all. Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, a Republican and potential 2014 gubernatorial opponent of McDaniel who accused the Democratic attorney general of running political campaign ads at public expense. As Darr said via Twitter, “I wish my office had millions at its disposal to run my campaign ads.”

Based on that communique, Darr himself could be accused of using his own office as a venue for political speech. Were McDaniel not moved to promote consumer safety, Darr would likely criticize his indifference to consumers. In short, it’s one of those ugly political moments where McDaniel had no move without consequences. No one ever said politics was free of paradox.

Of course this tempest in a teapot has another political dimension in the form of Republican legislative grousing. Rep. Andrea Lea, R-Russellville, said the campaign sounds like a worthy project, but questioned whether it is consistent with the rules of the Eli Lilly settlement and whether McDaniel accepted bids from advertisers for the project. According to Aaron Sadler, a McDaniel spokesperson, three companies placed bids on the project before the contract was awarded to Stone Ward Advertising of Little Rock.

Just to place Lea’s comments in context, during this year’s fiscal legislative session, she temporarily held up the attorney general’s office budget, under the auspices of wanting more information about how McDaniel determined the way a $39.4 million settlement with the nation’s largest mortgage companies would be distributed. She has since reiterated concerns about the extent of McDaniel’s discretion in distributing settlement funds.

Here again, it’s a Catch-22. Either McDaniel shows initiative and creates innovative programs or he gets dogged for doing too little. Either way, the detractors file out to complain.

On balance, McDaniel has shown himself to be effective in his present office. He has well-represented the state’s legal interests and he has done so in an affable and accessible manner. Political enemies being what they are, no point is too small to argue, even when the facts seem to preclude it.