State Auditor Andrea Lea,
who began her tenure in statewide office with a degree of competence unseen in some other Republican counterparts (think Treasurer Dennis Milligan
particularly), is becoming more deeply mired in a political embarrassment.
Reporting by Arkansas Business eventually nailed down
the obvious influence of political fixer John Goodson
in Lea's choice of a law firm (pals of Goodson) to handle a potentially huge lawsuit over state efforts to capture unclaimed federal savings bonds. Goodson was a campaign contributor to Lea. She ignored another law firm that had pioneered the strategy for going after this potential windfall. We wrote about the political connections
It's smelly, but typical political stuff, to guide business to your contributors or friends of theirs. But the embarrassment deepens. Lea attempted to keep her business secret by instructing staff to conduct business through private e-mail accounts, under the mistaken belief that this would shield the conduct of state business from scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act. And, still worse, she denied to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that she had instructed anyone to do such a thing. A former staffer has now produced copies of her e-mails instructing use of private accounts.
All this produced this quote from Lea in today's Democrat-Gazette
"I am not happy that it came to my attention that a statement I made was not accurate and I want to move forward," she said.
In other words: "I'm not happy I was caught lying. Now, can we please talk about something else?"
Lea told the D-G she was making policy changes in the office:
She is mandating that state business be conducted on state email by all employees. She said she is drafting an email retention policy. She is providing cellphones for administrative staff "for the purposes of accurate record keeping and to prevent inadvertent intermingling of state and personal business," according to a statement.
Arkansas Business illustrated with copies of Lea's texts.
UPDATE: Lea spoke to me about the mess. She said, as she'd indicated to others, she had no recollection of instructing use of private e-mails nor of speaking of doing so as a means of avoiding the FOI. But she said the text messages speak for themselves, if not for her state of mind at the time. She said she had a strong legislative record on FOI matters and had done a complete search of her personal email and compiled a full file of all that discuss state business. It's open to any who wish to see it and she said she'd taken steps to insure that all would be open and accessible in the future. She said several times, "Mea culpa." She said she'd only had a small role in the legislation that allowed the state to begin the action to seek the unclaimed bond proceeds and defended the hiring of the firms being used because of their record of work for another state agency. She added that she wouldn't know John Goodson if he walked into her office and noted that he gave money to many politicians, including her predecessor, Democrat Charlie Daniels.
Also, Democratic Party Chair Vince Insalaco issued a statement on the story:
“Today we learned that State Auditor Andrea Lea was caught lying about her use of personal email to conduct state business. Text messages brought to light by the press have made it clear that Lea used personal email for state business, directed employees in the State Auditors office to use their personal email, and then lied to cover up these unethical practices. State Auditor Andrea Lea is not sorry she lied. She’s sorry she got caught in a lie. “With every passing day, we learn of more corruption among Republican ranks. From Judge Maggio, Senator Files, State Treasurer Milligan, Attorney General Rutledge, and now State Auditor Lea, the narrative of Republican corruption, backroom deals, and underhanded politics is clear.
“Arkansans need honest, ethical leadership, not politicians who are willing to bend and break the law to benefit their own careers.”