Testimony has begun in the trial of former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner, accused of taking $36,000 in cash from bond broker Steele Stephens in return for steering significant state bond business to him.
Shoffner’s attorney Chuck Banks opened yesterday by arguing that the money wasn’t bribes, but only “improper” cash campaign contributions. I think the Ethics Commission would quarrel with his assertion that these weren’t illegal. There are limits on campaign contributions. Limits on cash contributions. Limits on contributions within a time period around an election. Requirements for reporting of contributions. All these potential ethics violations may be prosecuted as Class A misdemeanors. Banks is doing the best he can, dealt a tough hand.
Witnesses today have said Steele Stephens had an unusual amount of state bond business, a fact we first reported several years ago, along with his contributions to her campaign fund-raising effort. KARK’s Josh Berry, also reported: “Shoffner would, to get her way, slam her fist and say I’m the GD State Treasurer and I can do what I want!’ ” This fits with accounts we’ve reported of her imperious treatment of staff, including fetching breakfast for the dog she brought to work.
Favoritism of one broker isn’t, on its face, illegal, a fact Legislative Audit learned in its extensive review of Shoffner. But taking money for the business — and Shoffner had told legislators she received nothing from Stephens — is different. Stephens seems likely to testify. The jury also is going to hear a tape recording he made surreptitiously talking to Shoffner after controversy had erupted over her investment practices. He’s a cooperating witness and has not been charged.