Region 8 News investigates: Who's representing whom?

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Early voting got underway this week for the Arkansas May primaries. As voters head to the polls, we've learned several local lawmakers are heading to the bank.

Not only are they collecting contributions from local residents, they're also cashing a lot of checks from lobbyists and political action committees.

Anyone running for political office in Arkansas must submit monthly "Campaign Contribution and Expenditure" reports. Those reports itemize every dollar collected and spent.

Recently, we checked the reports for our Region 8 representatives and found something interesting.

Virtually every incumbent, when they began running, received the bulk of their money from people inside their districts.

However, once they won the primary, the money started coming in from outsiders, namely, lobbyists and Political Action Committees or PACs.

Democrat Joe Jett represents District 56.

Before the 2012 primary, he primarily collected money from constituents in his district.

"A lot of my campaign contributions came from my neighbors and my friends and just family members if you will," Jett explained. "So up to the primary, I was strictly raising that type of money."

That quickly changed after the primary. He wound up collecting six times the cash from outside donors. $6,200 from outsiders versus $1,000 from constituents.

"When they did see that I was unopposed, a lot of money from Little Rock and outside of my district started - not a lot of money - but some money started flowing in," Jett said.

The money didn't stop after he got elected. Since 2012, he's collected more than $20,000 from outside his district. Inside, he's collected just $200.

Jett's not alone.

That same reversal of fortune can be found in every district, including District 52, which Republican John Hutchison represents.

Before the 2012 election, he collected more money from people inside his district but once he got elected, money from PACS and lobbyists began pouring in.

We reached out to Hutchison, who is already facing questions about his debt to the IRS, but he refused to speak to us in person.

We tried calling him but he never answered and he never returned our calls.

Jett is a little more forthcoming.

He admits PAC money does sway some people's votes but he believes most of his fellow state reps are in Little Rock for the right reasons, namely, to represent those who voted them into office.

We asked Jett if he ever felt like he had to balance between what his constituents and his PACs wanted.

He quickly answered, "no."

"Never. Never. At the end of the day, my people sent me down there to vote to represent them and I'm not going to do anything that's going to lose their trust or faith in putting me there," Jett said.

Region 8 News collected the campaign contributions for every state representative in Northeast Arkansas.

To take a look at who is giving your state rep money and when, find their name and link in the "More on the Web" section to the right.

Copyright 2014 KAIT. All rights reserved.