Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke today to the Arkansas Bar Association and proposed a couple of small improvements in ethics law.
He spoke of stronger penalties for ethics violations (now nominal() and also said he’d back an end to “cloning PACs.” This is doing what Michael Morton and Bruce Hawkins and other special interpleaders such as the right-wing Conduit organization have done. They set up multiple PACs, sometimes with similar contributors and similar beneficiaries. The most infamous was the scheme uncovered to fatten the campaign of Mike Maggio, who wanted a Court of Appeals seat but ended up in prison.
You can catch ethics remarks at 22:20.
These ideas are fine. But the Ethics Commission still depends on the legislature for its money. It still has a new mulligan rule that allows legislators to fix many violations without penalty. It has a paltry enforcement staff. Better than ending clone PACs would be to end corporate contributions to PACs. They are now used as an end-around the ban on contributions to individual campaigns. Corporte interests just load up on the PACs instead.
I was told that Hutchinson also mentioned the troubles of his nephew, Sen. Jeremy Hutchibnson, paid a half-million in putative legal retainer fees to work for a health care provider proven to have employees enmeshed in bribery, kickbacks and illegal campaign contributions. Let the criminal justice system run its course, Uncle Asa said.
Of course. Jeremy Hutchinson is innocent of a federal crime until proven guilty and he hasn’t even been charged. But he is already guilty of gross appearance of conflict of interest in advocating for paying legal clients in the halls of the Capitol as a legislator. As I wrote earlier today, the state has made no move for accountability for the enormous Medicaid beneficiary in the middle of this scandal. There’s no reason to wait for criminal justice to deal with that. The governor’s DHS could act decisively.