John Lyon of Gatehouse Media reports that State Treasurer Dennis Milligan has “fired” his campaign treasurer, Rick Meyer, and demanded that he turn over all campaign records to Milligan.
This is part of continuing fallout of Lyon’s reporting on copies of purported campaign e-mail that indicate Milligan’s deputy chief of staff, Jason Brady, used American Cancer Society e-mail and a telephone conference network to conduct campaign business and that he directed that campaign payments be processed to him in a way to hide his participation.
The Cancer Society is a nonprofit whose employees are discouraged from using their jobs for partisan activity. Both Brady and another current Milligan staffer and former campaigner, Grant Wallace, were on the Cancer Society payroll in 2014.
Why Meyer? He wouldn’t say. But he was in the chain of suspect Jason Brady e-mails during the campaign.
Milligan also said in a statement Wednesday that his brief investigation of Brady had “fully cleared” him. But he referred only to actions as a treasurer’s office employee. Milligan said he couldn’t determine if the copies of campaign e-mail were legitimate. They’ve been widely circulated among various media by former campaign workers and more is likely to surface because several former campaigners have fallen out with Milligan. Indeed, the many stories about troubles in Milligan’s office come not from Democratic political foes but from members of his own party and even from his own former allies. Meyer, now fired, is a long-time Milligan supporter and a big Republican player in Saline County politics.
About Brady, Stephens Media reported:
Milligan placed Brady on three days of paid leave starting Monday. On Wednesday, Milligan said his office was unable to verify the authenticity of paper copies of the emails that the Arkansas News Bureau provided.
“Not long after the campaign ended, we closed out the campaign email account so as not to incur further costs,” Milligan said in a written statement. “We have tried to recoup that email account to find the emails in question; but we no longer have access to them. We cannot validate the paper copies of the emails given to the media as far as time stamps nor from what email account might they have been sent.”
Brady himself had issued a statement, however, saying he inadvertently used the Cancer Society account. There seems little doubt the messages were genuine.
Milligan said he was sending a personal letter to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and was including a contribution from him and Brady, “for any public harm this situation has caused their organization.”
He added, “If ACSCAN conducts their own internal review and finds cost associated with my campaign, I have asked they let me know and they will be made whole.”
Ray Carson, ACSCAN’s associate director of media advocacy for the south region, was asked Wednesday evening if the organization had assisted Milligan’s office in its investigation.
“They have not contacted us,” Carson said.
Milligan also said that Brady’s hidden payment was made by a vendor paid by the campaign and that chain of payments was legitimate. The law requires itemization of expenses though it is also true that law is often unenforced.
Milligan fired an office staffer this week for unexplained reasons. He’d been a campaign worker. He’s been dogged by controversy. He had to get a law change to qualify Jim Harris to be hired as his chief deputy. He illegally hired a cousin. He hired a legislator’s wife. He ousted vendors with months to run on contracts to replace them with vendors of his choosing. He handed one office contract to the son of one of his top aides, Gary Underwood. He’s been unavailable for interview or direct comment. He won a hotly contested primary after trying to force Duncan Baird out of the race with threat of spreading political dirt about him. He’s instituted a policy of destroying e-mail every 30 days. He’s still battling legal action from his days as Saline circult clerk, where a depleted budget and unhappy employees are part of his record.
An investigation is in order. Legislative Audit, as Republicans unhappy with former Treasurer Martha Shoffner mounted. A prosecutor with subpoena power. The Ethics Commission. Something. It is time to move fast. Milligan seems to be trying to capture and eliminate potential evidence as rapidly as possible. Some of his old friends, reluctant to talk now to the press, might feel differently after being administered an oath by a prosector.
Finally, where are the Republicans who should be calling on Milligan to clean up his act?
CORRECTION: I incorrectly listed John Lyon’s media employer originally. What had been Stephens Media is now owned by Gatehouse Media.
Milligan’s office provided me with the full statement:
“Last week, I asked Brady to take a few days off to learn more about his personal actions during the campaign.
“While he was out of the office, as part of our due diligence to the taxpayers of Arkansas, we made sure Brady was not conducting any political activity on state time nor using state equipment, and he was fully cleared.
“Let me stress, nothing tied to this issue has anything to do with Brady while he has been a state employee. He has not violated any state laws or ethical guidelines while employed in my office. This issue is about what he did or did not do while he was as a private citizen in the private sector.
“We know for a fact that Brady was not paid for his work from my campaign, and he was strictly a volunteer.
“We also know that Brady worked with a vendor hired by the campaign to manage our Facebook page. We reviewed what Brady did on behalf of my campaign and have seen where it was done so from his personal/private funds. He turned the bills over to and was reimbursed by the vendor. Those expenditures were included in the vendor’s bill submitted to my campaign, paid for with campaign funds and reported on my campaign expenditure and contribution reports.
“Not long after the campaign ended, we closed out the campaign email account so as not to incur further costs. We have tried to recoup that email account to find the emails in question; but we no longer have access to them. We cannot validate the paper copies of the emails given to the media as far as time stamps nor from what email account might they have been sent.
“The campaign had both a conference call number and equipment that Brady had access to; so there would have been no need or reason for him to have utilize any other conference call number. Again, if he used resources outside the campaign, it was beyond my knowledge.
“A private citizen while employed in the private sector, Brady exercised his Constitutional right of association; however, out of respect to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN), he did not make his private political activities in my campaign known to the general public nor staff or volunteers at ACSCAN – so as to protect the 501 C 4 organization from looking as if it endorsed or supported my campaign. Brady acted on his own volition and in no way ever represented to me or anyone else that ACSCAN endorsed or supported my campaign. The Treasurer of State is the State’s bank and has no direct influence over health issues important to this wonderful organization, there was never any conflict of interest.
“Additionally, we have been shown an another email by the press which clearly has been altered. As we have stated, these are only paper copies of printed emails and there is no way to validate their authenticity. Distractors will go to any length to attempt to disrupt or harm hardworking and dedicated public servants.
“Finally, I am sending a personal letter to ACSCAN along with a contribution from myself and Jason Brady for any public harm this situation has caused their organization. If ACSCAN conducts their own internal review and finds cost associated with my campaign, I have asked they let me know and they will be made whole. We cannot see where any campaign or ethics laws were violated, maybe only an internal company policy of ACSCAN.
“I look forward to returning back to the work the people of Arkansas elected me to do and to continue to see the success of my Investments Department and reviewing new technologies for continued transparency.”