The Legislative Audit yesterday released an audit that questioned Secretary of State Mark Martin’s charging a 2015 trip to Ghana for him and a deputy, now Washington County Judge Joseph Wood, to state taxpayers.
The audit put it succinctly:
The duties of the Arkansas Secretary of State are specified in the Arkansas Constitution and other applicable laws and include overseeing election laws, including candidate filings and ballot initiatives; registering businesses; and keeping up the Capitol grounds. The purpose of the USDA trip, costing $8,380, does not appear to be within the scope of these duties.
Martin didn’t bother to attend the audit committee meeting yesterday. According to a Democrat-Gazette account, Martin was working at a Boy Scout summer camp.
But his deputy Kelly Boyd stood by what the audit reported: Martin asked to join the Arkansas agriculture secretary on the trade mission to help Arkansas agricultural exports. The office conceded some recordkeeping problems. But get this:
Forget the Constitution and law. If Mark Martin decides something he does is a benefit to Arkansas, he’ll make taxpayers pick up the tab. It’s a big world. What’s next? Paris, to visit the offices of a jet maker in Arkansas? Beijing? I bet they would like some of our rice. The possibilities are limitless. That international law angle alone could send Martin just about anywhere.
Boyd was asked yesterday about tangible benefits from the trip. He wasn’t prepared to name any.
Kudos to Frank Arey, counsel for Legislative Audit. It’s not easy standing up to elected officials, particularly one who proclaimed during his last campaign he was the most popular elected official in Arkansas. Arey was quoted in D-G:
“There is no legitimate question that audit’s travel finding is a valid exercise of legislative oversight, both as a matter of law and a matter of precedent.”
Justice Mark Martin thinks otherwise. If only it were easier to file lawsuits over improper expenditures of public money. (But wait. Another legal opinion from Mark Martin is that he enjoys sovereign immunity from
Martin’s interest in Ghana caught my attention long ago. Indeed, the audit finding yesterday happens to fall in line with questions I raised about the office’s trade mission months ago. I, too, cited the constitutional description of the office’s responsibilities.
My earlier article indicated an interest by Martin in his office becoming something of a center for foreign policy for the state, akin to the U.S. secretary of state. As I quoted his aide Chris Powell at the time:
The Secretary, as any state elected official, is an ambassador for the State of Arkansas. Our office does have a role in international relations and in economic development. We receive many foreign and diplomatic delegations at the Capitol. Just recently, our office helped coordinate a visit from the Consul General of Korea, at his request, and facilitated numerous meetings with Arkansas business leaders. International companies doing business in Arkansas are customers of our Business & Commercial Services Division as are U.S. based companies. We are currently working with AEDC to streamline our processes to better facilitate foreign direct investment in Arkansas.
It appeared from the account of yesterday’s meeting that Martin’s trip to Ghana in late 2015 was his last taxpayer-paid foreign jaunt. I trust Legislative Audit will remain vigilant.