You won’t find it on the list of scheduled events of the House of Representatives, but you can find many if not all of the legislators at the refurbished Robinson Center tonight for Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam’s formal ball.
Drinks are at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7.
My inquiry to the speaker’s office about details got a referral to the state Republican Party, which is “paying for the event.” I’ve submitted questions to the Republican Party. No responses so far. They said they were busy preparing for the ball. (A lucky invitee provided bare details.)
Once more: Yes, voters in 2014 approved a laughingly named ethics amendment that supposedly ended free wining and dining for legislators. The merriment has continued, in a variety of guises, including some Louis XIV-style balls for the House speaker and Senate president pro tem in 2015 that were financed by lobbyists. I howled then. Legislators took care to fix things with a little special language inserted in the state ethics law and signed 14 days ago.
First: Though political parties spend a lot of money trying to influence legislation, this law change legalized their giveaways by saying political parties were NOT lobbyists.
Among the various exceptions legislators have added to the anti-gift/freebie law was this little provision:
Anything of value provided by a recognized political party when serving as the host of the following events to all attendees as part of attendance at the event:
(a) The official swearing-in, inaugural, and
recognition events of constitutional officers and members of the General Assembly; and
(b) An official event of a recognized political party so long as all members of either house of the General Assembly affiliated with the recognized political party are invited to the official event.
The law change also provided for swag bags by this exception for events for the speaker and other swells:
Anything of value provided by a political party under § 7-1-101 or § 7-7-205 when serving as the host of the following events to all attendees as part of attendance at the event:
Anything of value? A hundred-dollar bill?
So Repubs are throwing the party and everyone in the House is invited. Bring on the steak and lobster.
I’d like to know if specific gifts by lobbyists were made to defray the Arkansas GOP costs. I’d like to know who’s on the guest list besides legislators. Might the public attend? If Ted Mullenix, Bruce Hawkins and them are getting to rub shoulders with lawmakers in a closed, formal setting tonight, I presume they might be able to get Walmart to provide some good wine, in that they are stocking up to sell better stuff soon in their grocery stores. Gillam helped shepherd THAT through his Rules Committee.
It tells me a lot that public officials are helping to arrange this event and that they won’t let their publicly paid staff talk about it.
The Jon Woods Memorial Ethics Amendment (named for the now-under-indictment architect of the measure that raised pay, extended terms and offered loopholes to the no-gift rule) continues to work wonders for a cleaner Arkansas, doesn’t it?
No word yet on Senate event, but they voted for the new loophole, too. Little is spared in making these fine events, as photos from last year show. A description of the event:
Because Speaker and Mrs. Gillam are avid movie watchers, they chose an Oscar-like theme for the evening. Guests arrived to a red carpet, staff were given awards patterned after the golden statues given at the Oscars and the band played favorites from iconic movies. The movie theme carried over into a silent auction where donated memorabilia was auctioned off. [A benefit for a children’s home.]
UPDATE: The Senate President Pro Tem Dinner is Thursday, March 30 at the Junior League Building with an after-party at Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson’s Club 1836. Both have balconies suitable for tossing breadcrumbs to po folks.
UPDATE II: I got this response to various questions to the GOP late in the afternoon from Stephen Houserman:
Thank you for reaching out to me today regarding the Speaker’s Ball. In addition to the Speaker’s Ball, we have organized and are hosting the Senate Pro Tempore Reception. Since these events are intended to be an evening of recognition and celebration of the dedicated work by our legislators, formal invitations had been sent to all relevant parties.
In regards to your inquiry on ethics and the participation of legislators, I would suggest that you review Arkansas Act 312 of 2017. The Republican Party of Arkansas is hosting these events in accordance with this Act.
I hope I answered your questions in a satisfactory manner, Max. Feel free to give me a call if you ever are in need of information.
P.S. – I cannot speak on behalf of the guests’ choices of dress, but I will be wearing a modern fit black suit I found on the discount rack at Men’s Warehouse with matching slacks and a navy blue Trump tie to compliment the dress my wife purchased online.