The revolving door continues.
The Department of Human Services announced today that state Rep. Jeff Williams (R-Springdale), who lost his re-election bid this November, will join the agency’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. Williams will be Deputy Chief of Legislative Affairs, working under another former lawmaker, Kelley Linck, who is chief of the office. Williams will make $89,500 a year.
Your typical speaker of the English language might ponder this business about “legislative affairs” and conclude that Williams is going to lobby for DHS.
That would be illegal because there is a two-year cooling off period before a lawmaker can become a lobbyist. Luckily for Williams, there’s a loophole: Under state law, people who work for state agencies or institutions in roles that involve, um, communicating with the government aren’t considered lobbyists. Such public employees, because they do not register as lobbyists, cannot legally spend more than $400 a quarter on lobbying (although they get exceptions for “the cost of informational material and personal travel, lodging, meals, and dues”). Nevertheless, there’s no secret about what’s going on here: Williams is being paid $89,500 to help persuade his old buddies in the legislature to see things DHS’s way. And because he doesn’t register as a lobbyist, no one is regulating his activities.
Linck himself — who makes $115,283 a year — pulled the same trick when he left the legislature to land his DHS job in 2016. There have been several other recent examples of these taxpayer-funded “unlobbyists” from the legislature: There was former Sen. Johnny Key, who previously served on and chaired legislative committees with oversight over higher education left the legislature to become associate vice president for university relations for the University of Arkansas System (in Key’s case, the revolving door just kept revolving: a year later, he became head of the state Department of Education, after his former colleagues in the legislature changed the job criteria to ensure he would qualify). Then there was Rep. Tommy Wren, who worked as a “legislative liaison” for Governor Hutchinson, not to mention landing a “consulting” gig with high-powered lobbyist Mullenix and Associates. Not a lobbyist, right? He later landed a cushy state job. The same trick happens within the executive branch: Shane Broadway, for example, the former director of the Department of Higher Education, took a job with Arkansas State University as vice president for government relations immediately upon leaving his position as a state official.
Given the fact that we’ve been reading headlines for the last year about a massive web of public corruption in state government, you might worry a little bit about all this back-and-forth between state agencies and the legislature charged with reviewing their actions.
The issue is just as stark, by the way, when it comes to the entities that DHS itself is regulating. At least three DHS officials went to work as top executives for Preferred Family Healthcare — the Medicaid provider enmeshed in the corruption scandals — after leaving the department, including Robin Raveendran, who was later charged with Medicaid fraud.
PFH likewise stacked its board and staff with former legislators. I suppose it’s possible that all these fat salaries are going to former lawmakers because of their unrivaled expertise. Having covered a few of them, I’ll posit a guess that what’s on sale here is influence. Call it what you will.
Williams’ first day at DHS will be December 3. State legislators may not be hired for state jobs, so Williams submitted his letter of resignation as a legislator today. According to DHS, he is also “dissolving his personal business to continue public service in this new role.” According to his most recent financial disclosure form, Williams has a property tax management business.
Here’s the press release from DHS on Williams:
The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) announced Friday that former State Representative Jeff Williams would be joining the agency’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs as Deputy Chief of Legislative Affairs.
“Jeff brings a long history of public service to our agency, and his time as a leader in the military gave him experience in developing common goals, communicating with key stakeholders, and finding solutions,” said Kelley Linck, Chief of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. “We have a lot of transformations underway at DHS, including in the Division of Youth Services’ approach to juvenile justice and our ongoing efforts to serve families through our Division of Children and Family Services. Jeff’s passion and dedication to children and families make him a great fit for the DHS team.”
Williams was elected to the Arkansas General Assembly in 2016 to represent District 89 in Northwest Arkansas. During his time in the legislature, he focused on improving the lives of children and families. Williams was the lead Arkansas House sponsor on a resolution encouraging the state to offer ARKids First state-sponsored health coverage to children who lawfully migrate to the United States from the Marshall Islands.
He spent more than 20 years in the United States Army, specializing in psychological operations. Those operations were geared toward building relationships and understanding the needs of domestic and international partners across the globe.
Williams submitted his letter of resignation on Friday, November 30. He is also dissolving his personal business to continue public service in this new role.
His first day at DHS will be December 3. The Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs works with legislators and others to address constituent concerns or questions regarding DHS policies and programs. The office also works to coordinate with other state agencies, and it serves as the point of contact for the Bureau of Legislative Research.