Jared Henderson, the Democratic candidate for governor, today expanded on his call for tougher ethics rules in Arkansas with some new specific ideas.
One idea is to specifically bar legislators from designating recipients of state money. The governor and the legislature say, for now, the old General Improvement Fund pork barrel scheme and a related scheme for doling out behavioral health services money are things of the past. Henderson said that’s not enough.
Henderson also proposes to require legislators to disclose — weekly during legislative sessions — any compensation or payment for contract services with lobbyists or firms that employ lobbyists. That could hit some people in their pocketbook.
I’ve been trying to get comments from Gov. Hutchinson since Henderson raised the issue last week on specific ethics ideas. His office has not responded.
Henderson’s release in full:
Democratic nominee for governor Jared Henderson released a second set of ethics proposals Monday morning following his initial release of a 5-point plan last Monday, the State Senate’s leadership draft of internal rule changes on Thursday, and the Governor’s ethics proposal on Friday.
“Public corruption is infecting Arkansas state government and it takes more than a few band-aids to cure it. I’m fighting for widespread ethics reform throughout state government and sadly, I’ve seen little in recent proposals that fully addresses changes our state desperately needs,” Henderson said. “Roughly a year after the election of Gov. Hutchinson, the Center for Public Integrity of Accountability and Integrity gave Arkansas’s state integrity a D- rating. This problem may have not started under the current administration, but there is no reason our current leaders should not be doing everything in their power to end it.”
“This is not a matter of waiting for the criminal justice system to run its course or fine-tuning ethics rules in one chamber without public hearings and comment. Our leaders must be, and should have already been, introducing and prioritizing legislation that cracks down on preventing corruption in state government,” Henderson added. “Regardless of the outcomes of current investigations, this problem is not new and Arkansans deserve substantive proposals.”
Henderson plans to continue the call for ethics reform throughout his campaign.
Henderson Campaign Proposal to Combat State Government Corruption Continued:
6) End Legislator-Directed Grants: When we use Arkansas’s money, taxpayers should trust that money is being put to good and honest use. In 2017, the Arkansas Supreme Court reinforced that the purpose of any allocated money must be distinctly stated in a bill. However, in recent years voters have seen legislators allocating money to fit their own personal gain, not to fit the needs of Arkansas.
Corruption in the Ecclesia College case, for example, stemmed from a legislator’s ability to designate the recipients of already appropriated funds, whether from a GIF or other grant program. These legislator-directed grants led to indictments and convictions based on kickbacks paid to legislators who designated recipients. Taxpayers deserve legislation to bar the practice of legislators designating the recipients of appropriated funds.
This could be done by amending the existing code of ethics [Arkansas Code Annotated § 21-8-304] to add a new section stating that no member or group of individuals of the General Assembly can designate the ultimate recipient of public funds previously appropriated by the General Assembly to the various executive agencies or other entities with power to expend the appropriated funds.
Governor Hutchinson may say that GIF is done, but the block grant idea he has floated has not committed to a proposal to end individual legislators’ ability to designate grant recipients. He should make that commitment now. Let’s remember that over time the legislature has adopted three versions of the General Improvement Fund, all of which were challenged in court.
7) Disclose Legislative Conflicts of Interest with Lobbyists: Every piece of legislation our lawmakers introduce should be for the purpose of benefiting Arkansans, not legislators or their friends.
That is why, in light of recent scandals involving bribery of legislators by lobbyists, lawmakers should amend the Arkansas code on conflicts of interests of legislators [Ark. Code Ann. § 21-8-803] to require legislators to disclose and itemize during each week of a legislative session all employment or professional services and compensation they have currently or have had in the previous year with registered lobbyists or firms that employ registered lobbyists.
We cannot rely on lobbyists to disclose the employment or service agreements they have with legislators, and statements of financial interest filed annually by legislators don’t adequately disclose those relationships with lobbyists and the firms that employ lobbyists.
When complying with my proposal, a legislator will ask, in writing, each person or business they work for currently and have worked for in the previous year if the person or business is a registered lobbyist or employs a lobbyist. The legislator will make disclosures as necessary based on written answers provided, with the disclosures to itemize each lobbyist and the business that employs the lobbyist along with the amount of compensation received.