On Wisconsin 

In a matter of hours, a timid ethics proposal by Reps. Steve Harrelson and Dan Greenberg was headed for the scrap heap, though they waited a few days before conceding defeat.

They proposed a House rule to report gifts, meals, drinks, etc., from lobbyists. It burdened only House members. It didn't apply to the Senate. It had no enforcement mechanism. It didn't cover the people who employ lobbyists.

But none of the structural flaws explain the death of the proposal. The Arkansas legislature simply does not want lobbyist gratuities reported fully. And it most certainly does not want them ended.

Talk to an honest lobbyist. He'll tell you how lobbyists use the ruse of group events — to which all legislators are nominally invited even when only a handful are expected — to put on lavish feeds in excess of the $40 reporting threshold. Group events are exempt from individual reporting. He'll tell you about the question most asked by legislators at lobbyist feeds — “This isn't going to be reported, right?”

Go to fine restaurants. Watch lobby teams split up payments for food and drink. Search in vain, too, for reports of any lobbying activity or expenditures on the reports of the lobbyist who has a well-known open bar tab nightly for all legislative comers at a downtown watering hole.

In short, reporting won't lift the legislature from its ethical sewer. Lawmakers need to swear off the freebies. Or voters need to swear them off by an initiated act. It's not a radical notion. All we need do is adopt Wisconsin's ethics laws.

Wisconsin has a one-year cooling-off period before any state official or employee can go to work as a lobbyist. Their law says a public official may not act on a matter in which the official has a private interest. Lobbyists must file detailed reports, easily searchable on-line, that disclose not only legislation on which they are lobbying but future issues, not yet filed. You can imagine how useful this would be to people trying to keep up with the clandestine dealings that often characterize the Arkansas legislature. Surprise race track casino bills wouldn't be so surprising, for example.

And get a load of the simplicity of this rule, as articulated by the Wisconsin Ethics Board:

“No lobbyist and no business or organization that employs a lobbyist may furnish anything of pecuniary value to an elected official, candidate for state elective office, legislative employee or agency official.” Anything.

There's a limited exception for certain speaking fees, but Wisconsin has closed out the bar tab. And lawmakers there not only may not accept free skybox tickets from lobbyists and others, they also can't purchase them unless they can demonstrate equivalent tickets are available to the public at the same price,

Many lobbyists would tell you they'd love such rules here. They'd save money. They hate it when a legislator shows up for dinner with a girlfriend, kids, first cousins and the neighborhood mechanic for a free feedbag. Good lobbyists are perfectly capable of doing business as other business people do, in person at places of business, by phone and by e-mail. The poorer among them know, too, that the freebies work. Petty bribery influences vote after vote.

Legislators wouldn't fight so hard to keep these illicit perks and avoid disclosing them if they didn't recognize the corruption. There's an easy fix. Copy Wisconsin. You tell me: Is Arkansas a better place than Wisconsin because we have lower ethical standards?


From the ArkTimes store


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Fritz Brantley

  • Words, Dec. 20

    Introducing an old movie on the old movie channel the other night, the host told an old story. The story is untrue, although I suppose the host, semi-old, believed it.
    • Dec 20, 2007
  • He talks, and talks, the talk

    A fellow posted an old newspaper article on his blog about a Mike Huckabee speech to a religious group in 1998. A friend faxed the article to me, then called to ask if I’d yet read it, which I had.
    • Dec 20, 2007
  • Going whole hog

    A Q&A with irreverent Arkansas-raised comedian Matt Besser
    • Dec 20, 2007
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Bootstraps for me, not thee

    Mean spirit, hypocrisy and misinformation abound among the rump minority threatening to wreck state government rather than allow passage of the state Medicaid appropriation if it continues to include the Obamacare-funded expansion of health insurance coverage for working poor.
    • Apr 14, 2016
  • Trump: The Obama of 2016?

    Conner Eldridge, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, launched an assault on Boozman Monday morning rich with irony and opportunity.
    • May 5, 2016
  • Double-talk

    A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.
    • Jun 29, 2017

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Aid politics

    The still-unfolding catastrophe in Houston is, first, a human tragedy. But when politicians try to tell you that a time of enormous human tragedy is not a time to talk about politics, it likely means the politics are embarrassing to them.
    • Aug 31, 2017
  • Save the statues!

    The Democratic Party of Arkansas has called for relocation of Confederate monuments from public places, such as courthouse squares and the Capitol lawn, to history museums or private grounds.
    • Aug 24, 2017
  • Charter secret

    These are hard times for those who believe in traditional public schools, run by democratically elected representatives, open to all on equal terms.
    • Aug 17, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Time for a coalition

    • I am very glad to see a lot of women running for government positions in…

    • on September 19, 2017
  • Re: Time for a coalition

    • Since Hillary's book has come out, the Hillary Bashers have starting ranting again. My thoughts:…

    • on September 19, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation