Mike Preston, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, filed an amended financial disclosure form this week after we asked about his omission of travel expenses paid for him by the private Arkansas Economic Development Foundation.
We inquired because Gov. Asa Hutchinson reported some $17,000 in payments by the Foundation for trade-related trips to Europe, Asia
As AEDC director, much of Preston’s travel, including abroad, are business expenses of the agency and need not be separately disclosed. But the state will only reimburse for coach class air tickets. Upgrades to business or first class must be paid by the individual or, in this case, may be paid by the Foundation. The same for alcoholic beverages.
In 2017, according to a summary provided by the department, Preston charged the department $6,351 air, hotel and other expenses for a trip to China, $13,070 for a trip to Paris, Tel Aviv and Germany, and $1,313 for a trip to Mexico.
His amended statement of financial interest, filed Monday, after I began inquiries last week, showed in the category to disclose nongovernmental sources of travel expenses that he received $5,229 to pay for upgrade of his air tickets on the European trip in June (on top of $7,156 for coach class tickets charged to the department) and $4,761 for an air ticket upgrade on the October trip to Asia (on top of $2,556 charged to the department)
I asked department spokeswoman Brandi Hinkle why the air upgrades hadn’t been reported originally. She said by e-mail:
There’s special language in the AEDC appropriation bill that allows a portion of his salary to come from the foundation. He interpreted the reporting under Section 3B – which is where he reports that income from the foundation – to cover any additional payments, such as travel reimbursements. There was no exchange of dollars, as the foundation pays the invoices, but after talking with legal counsel yesterday, Mike amended the filing to include the travel upgrades in the other section.
Preston was hired in 2015 at a rate of $167,000 a year, with $28,000 coming from the foundation. He also got a $50,311 bonus last summer paid from the foundation.