Suddenly, Senate talking ethics | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Suddenly, Senate talking ethics

Posted By on Tue, Jun 12, 2018 at 12:06 PM

The state Senate leadership suddenly thinks we might have an ethics scandal worth addressing.

An announcement from the Senate today:

Senator Jim Hendren, the President Pro Tempore-elect of the 92nd General Assembly, and Senator Jonathan Dismang, the current President Pro Tempore of the Arkansas Senate, will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 14, in Room 205 of the state Capitol, to release a draft of proposed ethics rules for the Senate.

Joining them will be Senator Keith Ingram, the Senate Minority Leader and Senator Bart Hester, the Majority Whip, and other senators.

The proposed rules will be considered at a Senate business meeting to be scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, when the newly elected senators from District 16, Breanne Davis of
Russellville, and District 29, Ricky Hill of Cabot, will take their oaths of office in the Senate chamber.
Something is better than nothing. But we already have a law that is supposed to prevent legislator/lobbyists. But several have found a way to be paid by special interests, vote for legislation helping the special interests and even sponsor legislation for the special interests. And still they insist their legal/consulting fees are not lobbying payments. Legislators are supposed to disclose when they have financial ties to subjects of legislation. The rule is rarely observed.

More disclosure should be required as a matter of law, not rule, with penalties for violation. A hard look is needed at the scam Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (the governor's nephew and Sen. Hendren's cousin) thinks he invented to get a rich Medicaid-funded agency to pay him $100,000 a year as a legal "retainer."  It is one thing to be a lawyer-legislator. It is another to be paid as a lawyer and then walk into the legislature and directly advocate their interests on the floor, as Hutchinson did for a mattress company, gambling machine makers and, now, a $43-million-a-year Medicaid recipient. (PS: Some of Hutchinson's double-dealing was out in the open and no member of the legislature made a public peep.)

Other topics: The two-year cooling-off period on lobby jobs should be extended to state lobbying jobs, such as ones taken by former Senate leader Johnny Key and House leader Jeremy Gillam. The statements of financial disclosure need to be FAR more detailed. Sen. Bryan King was rudely tromped on when he tried to require disclosure of legislators with agencies financed by Medicaid dollars. And so on.

It is a shame that it took a round of public shaming for the Senate to act. But better late than never.

The news conference could be a good time to ask about the state clawing back the $700,000 shipped to Ecclesia and also money sent to various preachers by the likes of Hester and others. For sure it's worth recalling a variety of ethics measures given the cold shoulder in 2017.

And so much more: Abuse of per diem; disclosure of consulting firm clients; personal PACs financed by corporate money; dark money in elections.

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