The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette continued this weekend to explore details of how Arkansas legislators guided state surplus money — the General Improvement Fund — to nonprofit enterprises in sketchy ways. It was criminal in the case of former state Rep. Micah Neal, who’s pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks from the money he guided to various recipients.
The latest reporting is an accounting of the connections between Neal and other legislators and agencies and a lobbyist we’ve identified previously that arose after Neal’s plea agreement was announced.
More indictments are expected, perhaps soon, with at least one other former legislator in the thick of the speculation.
This story comes, coincidentally, as the Democrat-Gazette continues to explore the tangled financial situation in which Sen. Jake Files of Fort Smith finds himself. He’s had some apparent reverses in his contracting business, claims in court indicate. Also, more than $1 million in public money has been spent on a sports complex that he’s said he was going to build without profit to himself. It’s incomplete and behind schedule. Questions have been raised about whether subcontractor bids he submitted for payment were legitimate. He also sought GIF money for work that he was supervising. If legal, it presents an ill appearance when a legislator uses tax money he controls for a project he’s overseeing. Files should resign from the legislature and get his financial house in order. It could be that he can’t afford to give up the income.
The governor wants to end the GIF slush fund. Former legislator and Jacksonville lawyer Mike Wilson continues an appeal of a lawsuit aimed at establishing — as it should — that this pork barreling amounts to unconstitutional local spending by the legislature. It’s time to quit it. Or more scandals will be sure to follow.
A forensic accounting of GIF spending down through the years would, if not indict, shame dozens of legislators.
PS: A reader asks how White River Planning and Development had GIF money to speak without a direct appropriation. (I’d reported earlier that Sen. Linda Collins-Smith had tried unsuccessfully to get that agency to support Ecclesia College with a GIF allotment because she admired their work study program.) I have a letter and spread sheet that details White River’s involvement in GIF money that flowed from the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District.