UA not ready to say if new ethics law ends legislative Hog favors | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

UA not ready to say if new ethics law ends legislative Hog favors

Posted By on Wed, Dec 10, 2014 at 3:33 PM

click to enlarge ANY FREEBIES FOR LEGISLATORS IN THERE?: The seating chart for Dec. 29 Texas Bowl. Will UA provide assistance to legislators?
  • ANY FREEBIES FOR LEGISLATORS IN THERE?: The seating chart for Dec. 29 Texas Bowl. Will UA provide assistance to legislators?

I mentioned earlier today that I'd asked the University of Arkansas if Issue 3, with its prohibition of gifts of any value to legislators by lobbyists or people who employ them, would mean an end to giving preferred seating and free parking to legislators (more than three dozen benefitted last year) at Razorback football games and other sporting events.

The response this afternoon from Laura Jacobs, vice chancellor for university relations:

We don’t know yet. The bill says that the ethics commission will set its rules in January. There’s no memo on the subject.

It is true that the Ethics Commission is empowered by the amendment to codify rules to regulate and enforce the new prohibition. But the amendment is now in effect. A bowl game is coming up in Texas.

It is true — indisputably —  that: 1) the University employs lobbyists; 2) dozens of legislators buy football tickets at face value for prime seats that cost others thousands of dollars in seat premium donations to the Razorback Foundation; 3) the University itself has declared the value of prime parking places at $20 (which is a lowball figure given that the Razorback Foundation charged $750 to others for the season).

A reluctance to express what seems obvious to me — nothing means nothing — could be just an abundance of caution from a bureaucratic structure that moves glacially. How else but glacial movement to justify all those six-figure chancellors, vice chancellors, assistant chancellors and assistants to the assistant chancellors.

It also could be a sign that an organization that has often operated by its own set of rules and looked for wiggle room was on the lookout for another escape clause to keep its influence-peddling alive.

What do I mean? Through a sham arrangement the UA Athletic Department essentially controls the money flow of the Razorback Foundation, but makes sure that the Foundation isn't accountable to the public. It moved development money around to suit its needs, including funding Chancellor David Gearhart's retirement plan. It took steps to screen its development fund problems from the outside world. It gave politicians football tickets long past the time, under ethics law, it should have stopped. Even now, it manages to continue to bestow valuable (in dollar terms) favors on legislators with preferred seating.

The UA is certainly sensitive to legislators. A howl from right-wing legislators through lobbyist Randy Massanelli is part of the back story of an eventual decision by Dean Danny Pugh to kill a student shuttle bus to polls in Tuesday's Fayetteville referendum. He made a spurious call that it was a partisan activity. It wasn't. Other factors possibly were at work, including perhpas Pugh's own feelings on the issue (he wouldn't respond to my questions). But the legislative objection turns up in black and white in e-mails I received under the FOI Act.

You can understand my suspicion that a reluctance to comment means more than no comment.

And what about the coming Texas Bowl? Will the UA be providing tickets, free or cut-rate. to politicians and other game favors, since, er, uh, the Commission hasn't set rules yet? Never mind the plain language of the amendment and its effective date, Nov. 5.

None of this addresses the rest of the Piggie scandal: That many politicians use campaign money — much of it from corporations and lobbyists — to buy Razorback tickets under the dubious premise that it's a political campaign activity.

In 2013, we did this handy diagram of where the favored lawmaker seats fell and what they would have cost had they paid true value.

Same rules apply to ASU, though seat values obviously are not comparable.

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