LITTLE ROCK — In the midst of a potentially pivotal 2012 election season in the state, one Arkansan is pouring thousands of dollars of his own money into an effort to influence an election that is still more than two years away.

LITTLE ROCK — In the midst of a potentially pivotal 2012 election season in the state, one Arkansan is pouring thousands of dollars of his own money into an effort to influence an election that is still more than two years away.

Carlton Saffa of Little Rock has created an independent expenditure committee — a so-called super PAC — aimed at defeating Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor in 2014.

Saffa told the Arkansas News Bureau the committee, Retire Pryor, has spent close to $10,000, with about $8,000 going to buy a full-page ad in the statewide newspaper.

Saffa, who works in the insurance business, said about $7,000 of the committee’s money has come out of his pocket and the rest has come from individual donors in Arkansas. Retire Pryor is not “some shadowy Washington, D.C.-based thing. This is my project. This is not from the (Republican National Committee),” he said.

Saffa declined to identify his donors but said their names are in a filing he recently submitted to the Federal Election Commission. As of Friday, the report was not posted to the FEC’s website.

A Republican, Saffa said he disagrees with Pryor’s politics, particularly his support of the federal health insurance reform law, but his campaign is not focused on Pryor’s votes or policies. Primarily, Retire Pryor has existed to put forth the allegation that the senator used his influence to shield his mother-in-law from an IRS investigation concerning unpaid taxes.

Pryor spokesman Michael Teague has repeatedly denied the charge and complained that Saffa has not backed it up with proof.

“Nothing he says has any truth,” Teague said Friday.

Saffa said he became intrigued after reading news reports about the IRS’ attempts to recover $2 million from a defunct trucking company, Continental Express Inc., that was owned by Pryor’s in-laws, Bonnie and Ed Harvey. The IRS said the money was withheld from employees’ paychecks but not remitted to the government in 2006.

The IRS has billed the company’s former president, Ralph Bradbury, for $800,000. Bradbury has filed a lawsuit against the IRS, alleging the bill should go to the Harveys and their former financial adviser, Marvin Jones.

“US Senator Mark Pryor has used his powerful position to shield his wealthy mother-in-law from $2 million in federal taxes owed by a company she owned,” Saffa alleges on Retire Pryor’s website.

Saffa admitted in an interview that he does not have a “smoking gun” that proves his allegation. But he said the IRS’ decision to go after Bradbury rather than the Harveys, and only for a portion of the $2 million, “doesn’t pass the smell test,” implying that Pryor had something to do with it.

Teague said he is preparing a lengthy document that will refute Saffa’s allegations. He said he hopes to release it Tuesday.

“None of it adds up,” Teague said. “This guy is just slandering Mark Pryor with no evidence.”

Saffa compared himself to a news blogger.

“What I’m doing essentially is no different from some guy with a blog who’s reporting on the news and trying to find a new angle,” he said. “In my own little way, I’m hunting my story down.”

Saffa said he thought he would grow up to be a journalist, but while attending the University of Arkansas he became interested in debate and politics and ended up not taking any college journalism classes.

“I probably should have,” he said.

His college years were tumultuous. He admitted he was nearly expelled but said he believed it was in retaliation for opposing the UA administration on a number of issues.

Saffa was a member of the student government in 2004 when it sued the university over meetings of a task force that UA administrators claimed were not subject to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. He also was involved in “Oust the Kommissar,” a push for the removal of then-Chancellor John A. White and then-Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Johnetta Brazzell.

The move to expel Saffa ultimately was dropped. He later left the university without graduating.

While at UA he gained an unlikely ally in state Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, who thought he was treated unfairly by the administration. The two have remained friends.

“I have a lot of respect for him. I think he does his homework and he has very strong principles,” Madison said Friday.

Madison said she has voted for Mark Pryor in the past and did not have an opinion about Retire Pryor’s allegations.

“I don’t know the details, but Carlton doesn’t go off half-cocked,” she said.

State Rep. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, said Saffa has a number of friends on both sides of the political aisle, including Gabe Holmstrom, former executive director of the state Democratic Party. Sanders and Holmstrom were groomsmen at Saffa’s wedding.

“I think it speaks well of you when somebody on the other side of the aisle has a lot of respect for you,” Sanders said.

Holmstrom said that “Carlton and I have had several lively debates and discussions on a number of topics through the years. While we don’t always see eye to eye, we can always agree to disagree.”

Saffa has volunteered for several Republican campaigns, including George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. He said he has no ambition to seek public office, preferring the role of activist.

Pryor has said he will seek re-election in 2014. Saffa said he launched his super PAC years in advance of that election to allow plenty of time to build a grassroots movement and begin attracting donors.

In the meantime, he said he has no regrets about using his own cash to keep Retire Pryor going.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

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