Ethics complaint filed against Flowers

Then-Arkansas state Rep. Vivian Flowers is shown at the state Capitol in this May 2022 courtesy photo.
Then-Arkansas state Rep. Vivian Flowers is shown at the state Capitol in this May 2022 courtesy photo.

A Pine Bluff woman who is part of a PAC that has worked to discredit state Rep. Vivian Flowers has filed an ethics complaint against Flowers for being late in turning in her campaign contribution reports associated with her run for Pine Bluff mayor.

Barbara Abraham apparently filed the "Citizen Complaint Form" with the state Ethics Commission on Friday, although that could not be confirmed. The form was notarized in Jefferson County.

Abraham wrote in the complaint that Flowers had said during a recent interview with The Commercial that Flowers had not yet filed her campaign paperwork, which shows campaign contributions and expenditures, that was due at the end of February.

"Then on March 25, 2024 in a video interview by the Pine Bluff Commercial, when asked if she had made her required financial disclosures required in her current candidacy for Pine Bluff mayor, she publicly admitted that she had not," Abraham wrote. "Now she is up to 34 violations."

Abraham was referring to previous campaign report violations that have been brought to light, although Flowers says the number is misleading and that she has paid one fine for being late with her reports.

"It is important for the public to know who is financing her campaign, at what amount, and how is she expending those funds," Abraham wrote.

Abraham concluded by saying she was "appalled that a so-called public servant continues to avoid making timely financial reports incumbent on all candidates, admits it publicly, almost boasting, making excuses, and apparently thinks it's OK, and normal so to do."

Flowers, who filed her paperwork on Friday, said she had been transparent about her late reports, saying it had to do with the illness of a person on her campaign who was handling treasurer duties. That person has since been replaced, she said.

"I think this is so much to do about nothing," Flowers said Monday, the final day of early voting before today's Democratic primary runoff with Mayor Shirley Washington. "I was only fined once and the reason was because I was in the midst of my dad being super sick. I eventually filed my report as I did this one."

Abraham and Joe Dempsey are listed as the officers for a newly formed political action committee called Record of Truth or ROT. Abraham is shown as working for the Pine Bluff Arsenal and is listed as a "Committee Officer" on the PAC registration paperwork filed March 22 with the state Secretary of State. Dempsey, shown as retired, is listed as the "Resident Agent" for the PAC, which has put its name on campaign literature in opposition to Flowers. In one email sent out, the group said Flowers had missed several key votes in the legislature. Flowers has refuted that claim and others that she said have been created by the PAC.

"This doesn't surprise me now that I know that Barbara is affiliated with Joe Dempsey and this PAC, which has set out to destroy me and my reputation and aimed at protecting the current mayor and Go Forward Pine Bluff," Flowers said. "They have been the ones responsible for the negative ads, a negative website and the negative emails. They have been the ones spewing misinformation and lies. They're behind it all."

In a letter to the editor from Dempsey to The Commercial published Monday, Dempsey reaffirmed the allegations that Flowers has condemned as false or misleading.

The PAC paperwork also lists Simmons Bank as the financial institution it uses for taking in contributions and paying expenditures.

Referring to the ethics complaint, Flowers said she had worked to put together the rules that politicians are required to follow in turning in such documents.

"Clearly, I'm in support of oversight and the laws," she said. "But sometimes people are late and I was, and I've been transparent about it all and have complied with the rules."

Flowers said she felt the complaint against her was politically motivated, given that she had said during the interview with The Commercial that she would file the paperwork by the end of last week.

"I'm grateful that she has a right to complain," Flowers said. "What she hasn't done is explain why she thinks the mayor is a better candidate than I am and maybe she can't do that."

Graham Sloan, director of the Ethics Commission, said he could not confirm having received the complaint.

"We're required to keep private matters confidential," he said. "So we can't confirm or deny receipt."

He said the commission has as long as nine months to look into complaints, although he said such matters are typically resolved much quicker. He said the commission, based on its findings, could issue a letter of caution, warning or reprimand and that fines range from $50 to $3,500.

A story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2017 said Flowers, as a state representative, agreed to pay a $500 fine and receive a public letter of warning from the commission in a settlement of a complaint filed against her for being late with her campaign reports.

Sloan said one complaint covering two missed deadlines, such as the one filed by Abraham, would likely "not be a major penalty."

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