The Legislative Council’s performance evaluation and expenditure review committee met Wednesday and one subject of discussion led to the scheduling of an item Friday before the full Arkansas Legislative Council at which the attorney general’s office will be asked answer questions about handling of cash funds won in lawsuit settlements.
Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) triggered the discussion by observing that the figures in the office’s required quarterly report didn’t add up. No representative of the office was on hand to answer questions. Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) asked questions of a legislative staffer that suggested he believed the law was written so broadly that Rutledge could spend the money however she wanted. Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R-Horatio), co-chair of the PEER committee, observed that many heads were nodding in agreement that the report was “problematic.”
Some court settlements are directed to specific purposes — say Medicaid in a settlement of overcharging on drugs. But other spending of money won in lawsuits has been increasingly left to the attorney general’s discretion over the years, a valuable pork barrel to curry political favors. This year, for example, the office has contributed $4 million to coronavirus relief efforts of the governor.
As we reported, the office is also spending $1.7 million on “consumer education” in the year that ends June 30 on a torrent of radio, TV and Internet advertising featuring Leslie Rutledge, a potential candidate for governor in 2022. In the ads, she talks about apple pie issues such as child abuse, opioid dangers and price gouging.
The report submitted this week, for example, includes payments of more than $1.1 million to the Communications Group for buying the Rutledge infomercials in the first quarter of 2020.
The ad campaign wasn’t mentioned in Wednesday’s brief committee discussion. Perhaps it will come up Friday.
Other Republicans are planning races for governor, including Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. Apart from the political dimension, the tidal wave of Rutledge ads has been so great that people have been complaining about their frequency.