Mike Wilson, the former state legislator who’s successfully sued twice to stop unconstitutional spending of surplus money on legislators’ pork projects, hasn’t quit trying to enforce budget discipline on the state of Arkansas.
The Arkansas Supreme Court recently upheld the award of $323,000 in attorney fees for John Ogles, the attorney in Wilson’s successful lawsuit. By the time the suit was finished, that left $646,000 in the court registry. Millions more were doled out, but already spent.
Wilson wants to make sure the money goes to the state of Arkansas, not to aggrandize an officeholder.
Wilson and Ogles have filed a motion in the case in Circuit Court suggesting that the money be split for scholarships at UAMS and the UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law.
The motion adds this — a poke, I’d say, at the office that defended the unconstitutional spending and opposed attorney fees repeatedly:
No part of the remaining funds should be utilized for “outreach” or advertising the office of the State Defendants or Attorney General or treated as “litigation settlement” funds or “rainy day” funds, or the like.
The state defendants are Larry Walther, state finance director; Auditor Andrea Lea; Treasurer Dennis Milligan and the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District, which was to be the money-laundering agent for General Improvement Fund money distributed at the direction of legislators in the agency’s coverage area.
Rutledge has managed to seize control of millions in money won for the state in class action lawsuits and mostly spent it at her discretion, including $1.7 million for self-serving “public service” announcements featuring her. She’s contemplating a race for governor in 2022.
Rutledge’s office had asked that the money be sent to the Department of Finance and Administration. Her motion doesn’t specify a further use or identify it as the sort of lawsuit recovery money that has accrued to her office previously. But Wilson and Ogles want to make sure.
The point of Wilson’s suits all along was that the legislature may appropriate money for state purposes, but not for local uses. There’s an ongoing discussion in the legislature now, spurred by Rutledge’s $1.7 million ad campaign, about whether the state has sufficiently reined in her use of state money. It did limit her consumer protection account to $1 million, but the legislature has learned that when that money gets spent up, Rutledge just transfers in more cash from court cases. She essentially has given herself unlimited spending of lawsuit money, unless restrained by a court order.
Circuit Judge Chris Piazza will decide these motions. By winning a request that the money also not go to a “rainy day” fund, the plaintiffs also would prevent the governor from adding it to his slush fund.