Millionaire banker French Hill, the Republican 2nd District congressman, is so desperate he’s playing the guilt-by-association game against Democratic opponent Joyce Elliott, willing to risk how easy it is to turn that table against him.
Hill has an ad out saying, correctly, that Joyce Elliott received campaign contributions from Rusty Cranford, then a lobbyist, now serving a federal prison sentence for participating in a vast scheme to bribe legislators and pay kickbacks for help the Springfield, Mo.,-based health services provider that once employed him.
That makes her one of 19 legislators, Republican and Democrat, who received campaign contributions from Cranford. (Not exactly a secret, by the way, as Hill depicts it.) Elliott also recommended distributing General Improvement Fund money (with support from other elected officials) to Dayspring Behavioral, a counseling service related to Cranford’s employer that provided legitimate community-based health care services. I’ve been down this Dayspring road myself and found it wanting as a knock on Elliott, except on the general issue of spending government money on local projects.
The GIF spending, now stopped by court order, was a bad government practice that legislators still defend because they say it provided help to local agencies that needed it. It sometimes did. But sometimes it was abused by recipients paying kickbacks to legislators who helped. No such wrongdoing was ever alleged against Joyce Elliott. And there have been federal trials on Cranford’s wrongdoing with others. Her name never came up.
But if we are to play guilt by association, let’s consider French Hill’s endorsement by Governor Hutchinson. Where does the governor figure in?
Well, first, he’s the uncle of former Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who’s pleaded guilty to being hip-deep in the sprawling Rusty Cranford-Preferred Healthcare corruption scandal. He not only got campaign contributions, but he also got kickbacks in the form of bogus legal fees to help Cranford in the legislature and many other emoluments.
And how did the governor help?
Well, let’s begin with the mothership of indictments in the health care probe, that of Tom and Bontiea Goss, the former top executives of the Springfield nonprofit that raked in hundreds of millions in five states providing government-financed health services. The kingpins of an operation that snared five Arkansas legislators await a trial at which Jeremy Hutchinson and Cranford are likely to be key government witnesses.
Among the wire fraud charges is this: Jeremy Hutchinson added language to the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2015 that gave the Goss’ nonprofit an advantage in competing for government contracts. The legislation allowed the state to contract with firms that could provide mental health treatment or job opportunities for people on probation or parole. Hutchinson was paid handsomely by Preferred Family Health as he massaged the bill to the Gosses’ liking.
The legislation passed. It was signed by GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON. He later boasted about this criminal justice reform effort. Other supporters included Sen. Jon Woods, now serving a 15-year prison sentence for bribery and kickbacks involving both Cranford and Ecclesia College.
But wait. There’s more. When Cranford pleaded guilty, the information indicated he also worked for Teach for America and helped Jeremy Hutchinson with legislation that appropriated $3 million for TFA, much beloved by the school choice crowd for putting young college graduates into public schools, supposedly fresher and more energetic than deadwood veteran teachers. This is important because Governor Hutchinson wanted this money. In due course, he authorized its spending to hire 150 TFA teachers in south and east Arkansas.
But wait. There’s still more. Another social services operator, Jerry Walsh of South Arkansas Youth Services, pleaded guilty to paying kickbacks to Cranford to get help for his behavioral services agency. He also paid money in supposed legal fees to two then-senators, Jeremy Hutchinson and Michael Lamoureux, the latter who’s outside-the-legislature sources of income raised ethical questions on a couple of occasions. His ethics weren’t sufficiently distasteful to prevent him from being hired for a time as Governor Hutchinson’s chief of staff. He’s always professed he did legitimate legal work and he has never been charged.
French Hill’s ad with Asa says, “We’ve accomplished a lot together.” I presume he’s not talking about these messy affairs.
We’ve seen this tactic before from French Hill. On the one hand, he blasts Elliott for supporting a bill to improve 911 services. On the other, he refused to condemn a dishonest ad by a Republican Super PAC saying she’ll wreck 911 services.
On the one hand, now, he overreaches to tar Elliott over campaign contributions from a lobbyist. On the other, he touts his association with Asa Hutchinson, who’s enjoyed political benefits worth millions of dollars promoted by that same lobbyist, Rusty Cranford. And who was silent on it when the scandal broke.
He is a shameless hypocrite. Just like the president he has steadfastly enabled, he’ll say or do anything to win.
Elliott’s campaign’s standing response:
“Lies and dirty politics won’t keep us safe, Congressman. Working together will.”