A lobbyist and an Arkansas legislator walk into a bar.
Drinks ensue. Then maybe a jumbo shrimp cocktail. Then maybe a steak, with a good cabernet. Coffee. Brandy.
Legislator dashes to the restroom. Lobbyist whips out credit card and pays for dinner.
A wait person who keeps up with current events — miffed at his small tip — knows these jokers. He calls the state Ethics Commission. He says a lobbyist just bought a $200 feed for an Arkansas legislator. That is against the law.
Ethics Commission says, thank you kind sir.. They call the legislator. Let’s say, just for the sake of attaching a name, it is Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale. Jon Woods says:
“Dang. I thought I’d told that waiter to split the bill and put my half on my tab. I’m sure I left my card on the table. I was in a hurry to get home and I must have screwed up. But, hey, I’ll fix it pronto”
Ethics Commission says, why sure Jon. Just pay your part of the bill within 30 days and and there’s not a damn thing in the world we can do about it.
This is no joke. This is exactly the scenario that may now ensue thanks to the so-called ethics legislation Woods sponsored to implement Amendment 94, which nominally ended gifts to legislators but actually did no such thing. Daily lunches, cocktail parties, dinners and vast lobbyist-paid soirees for the House speaker and Senate president were among the tangible byproducts of the “ethics amendment.” Rep. Warwick Sabin sent out a tout the other day for his legislative achievements including “ethics reform” embodied in the bill Woods passed that effectively gives lawmakers a mulligan on illegal gifts and on inaccurate campaign reports. In short, they can correct any reported cheating in 30 days and all is forgiven. No investigation. No finding of violation.
NOTED: The Ethics Commission can go after an “intentional” violator. But does the law even allow them to investigate to determine that question if a lawmaker claims inadvertent error? And based on what? This part of the law sounds a whole lot more meaningful than it will ever be in practice.
MIchael Wickline reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning on Ethics Commission Director Graham Sloan’s baleful and low-key explanation to the Ethics Commission on the practical impossibility of investigating a sleazy legislator now. Sloan ran down other aspects of the bill. The article didn’t touch on another one of my favorite new “reforms” — it makes clear that when lawmakers take junkets lobbyists may also be at the ready to wine and dine them. A legislator need only receive a designation that his presence is needed to take a free junket (be sure legislative leaders will readily give the legislator any travel pass requested) and the “reform” makes it clear that meals may be accepted from benefactors if they are provided in conjunction with such junkets. Lobbyists flock to legislative gathering like blowflies on pasture pattys to wine and dine legislators away from local prying eyes. Coal-burning power companies have been particularly fond of the practice historically.
Allow me to pat myself on the back. I outlined this outrage March 30 after I saw a snippet on Woods’ “reform” legislation while on vacation.
I have requested an opinion from Sloan on some of the abusive practices that developed during the recent legislative session. Frankly, I’m expecting what will result is a sorry-but—there’s-nothing-the-ethics-commission-can-do response. Which is exactly what the crafty Jon Woods intended, along with his enablers. Sloan did testify in committee against the free gift and campaign report mulligan rules .The legislators have no interest in ethics, only in keeping the slop coming.