UPDATE: Microsoft lends support to governor; former governor's aide in the thick of it | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

UPDATE: Microsoft lends support to governor; former governor's aide in the thick of it

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 7:51 AM

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UPDATE: Some more information on the interest of a former top gubernatorial aide in an initiative Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced this week for a computer education promotion with Microsoft, a customer of the aide's consulting firm.

A recap from the top:

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced this week  that Microsoft would pitch in to advance computer education in Arkansas.

He and a company official announced a "memorandum of understanding" in which Microsoft will hold a camp, "live event" and a training session to promote STEM education and business development. It also will work with the state Education Department to provide computer science professionals to work with teachers of high school computer science courses.

The agreement in full here.

NOTED: Jon Gilmore, Hutchinson's former deputy chief of staff, is now a consultant and his clients include Microsoft.  Page 5 of the agreement linked above indicates the state will be providing resources to help promote Microsoft's good name, including placement of the Microsoft logo on state-generated materials.

Gilmore hasn't responded to my query by e-mail. A spokesman for the governor initially acknowledged that Gilmore was a consultant for Microsoft but said any questions about his role in arranging the alliance would have to be directed to Gilmore. I followed up, suggesting the governor should provide some answer on whether a former aide's work for Microsoft helped produce the arrangement in which the state will spend some money in ways that will benefit Microsoft in public relations.

I spoke further with the governor's spokesman, J.R. Davis. He said, again, that he wasn't aware of what specific work Gilmore might have done, but emphasized that the arrangement had "nothing to do" with Gilmore's past association. It was based solely, he said, on the governor's initiative to require computer education in every high schools. "They reached out to our office early on," he said. The governor's plan "intrigued them."

He acknowledged the state would contribute some employee time as well as display the Microsoft logo as part of the understanding. "The Microsoft logo will only highlight what we are doing," he said. "It's an absolute win for the state."

I subsequently made an FOI request to the Education Department for emails related to the deal. They showed that Gilmore was clearly in the thick of the planning. He was copied on the e-mails, including one sent by J.R. Davis, arranging the public relations effort.

In short: A former aide to the governor has been working with the governor's office in the interest of helping a client. Whether such "consulting" work is outside the bounds established to prevent former state officials from turning too quickly to lobbying is almost beside the point. It looks a little too cozy for comfort.

I received a further batch of e-mail on development of the proposal that also indicates Gilmore was noticed in most exchanges.

Gilmore uses his association with the governor quite openly, such as a picture of himself with the governor on his Twitter page, as well as his company website. He also was on hand when the governor traveled to the Republican National Convention and touted the governor's TV appearances. (While there, he was credited by Hutchinson staffer Alisha Curtis as having snapped a photo of her with  Ivanka Trump that she shared on Instagram.) In all, the message Gilmore sends to the world that anybody wanting to be friendly with the Arkansas governor would do well to give a call to his consulting firm. His website even quotes the governor as a reference:

“Jon has been a key part of my leadership team for the past three years. He managed my successful campaign, and he has also been instrumental in implementing my agenda as governor. His talent and counsel will be missed inside the office, but I am delighted he will continue to be engaged in Arkansas as part of the private sector. I will continue to draw upon his friendship and support in the future.”

Bad form.

Gilmore is not a registered lobbyist. He's only the latest in a long line (bipartisan) of former politicians and aides to politicians who've managed to make a living doing "consulting" work with and for government but somehow not falling into the defined category of those seeking to influence governmental decisions.

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