The lobbying arm of the Department of Human Services is now paying more than $300,000 in annual state salaries to a trio of familiar Arkansas Republicans — two former state legislators and a longtime aide of Governor Hutchinson — to lobby the legislature.
We noted yesterday that Betty Guhman is stepping down as director of the Division of Youth Services, the division within the DHS that oversees programs and facilities involving the juvenile justice system. Guhman plans to retire this summer but in the mean time, she will move to the in-house lobby at DHS — the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. (The DHS declines to call these activities — trying to advance the department’s agenda in the legislature — “lobbying.”)
I’ve gotten confirmation today that Guhman will continue to be paid the same salary she made as DYS director as she moves into her new lobbying role: $114,410 a year. Her title is senior policy advisor to juvenile justice. A longtime aide to Governor Hutchinson, Guhman will try to push juvenile justice legislation backed by the governor in the coming legislative session.
The fact that Guhman is keeping her salary as she flips to “senior policy advisor” is noteworthy because the DHS’s lobby shop is already larded with cushy gigs for discarded Republican lawmakers. Former state Rep. Jeff Williams (R-Springdale), who lost his re-election bid in November, was hired just last week as Deputy Chief of Legislative Affairs, making $89,500. His boss is former state Rep. Kelley Linck (R-Flippin), who resigned from the legislature in 2016 to go straight to the DHS lobby, making $115,283 a year
Lawmakers and state officials are supposed to wait two years before joining the lobby, but Williams and Linck took advantage of a loophole in the law — “public servants” paid by governmental bodies in such roles are not considered lobbyists. Because they do not register as lobbyists, they cannot legally spend more than $400 a quarter on lobbying, with a few codified exceptions. It’s just that they’re paid fat salaries to try to exert influence and get their old legislative buddies to see things from the DHS point of view, that’s all. And of course, because they don’t register as lobbyists, no one is regulating these activities.
State officials are also subject to a waiting period before joining the lobby, but Guhman can take advantage of the same loophole.