Legislators' outside income: New York case spurs a thought | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Legislators' outside income: New York case spurs a thought

Posted By on Sat, Jan 24, 2015 at 6:29 AM

Big news in New York this week with the indictment of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on bribery charges.

The nub of it: He made millions in outside income as a lawyer that the government argues was paid for legislative help, not legal work.

Well. Nobody has ever suggested an Arkansas lawyer/legislator ever got a retainer fee or other payment in return for their legislative work did they?

OK, sometimes ill appearances are left. In just the last legislative session one senator who'd done work for a phone company carried a bill to help put state money for broadband into that phone company's treasury. Another senator with a furniture company client worked on a bill aimed at a competitor mattress salesmen. That senator has long had a paid relationship with one of the biggest political players in the legal kingdom. But he would insist it's all for legitimate hours billed.

A law firm isn't the only way to bring in money in sometimes anonymous ways that might or might not have a relationship to public work. For example, one senator ilsts "consultant" income though he's never held a specific job since college except as a player in a rock band. Consult on what? For whom?  I suggest no misdeeds on his part in noting there are ways to bring in money without much accountability.

(FOR EMPHASIS: I'm not alleging illegal quid pro quo when legislators handle bills that directly impact people they represent in their private life. I am saying it doesn't look good. It's illegal only if the only work done for money is legislating.) 

Disclosure laws in Arkansas — which are pitifully inadequate in many respects — should be reviewed for a means of providing more transparency about legal and consulting and other businesses with clients who have business  before government. II'm pretty sure legal ethical rules don't bar identification of clients. Many firms boast of their blue ribbon clients on their websites.

Just some Saturday morning wishful thinking.

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