Jared Henderson, the Democratic candidate for governor, issued a call today for ethics reform in light of recent disclosures about corruption n Arkansas government. UPDATE: Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s campaign has responded.
In the last week, a federal bribery plea listed numerous allegations about bribery, kickbacks and influence peddling in the legislature; the Supreme Court heard of an allegation of attempt to bribe a member of the Medical Marijuana Commission, and the speaker of the Arkansas House, Jeremy Gillam, announced he’d leave office early to take a $130,000 lobbying job at UCA.
Said Henderson in a release:
“This past week was a low point following a period of pervasive political corruption infecting our state government,” Henderson said. “Silence is not leadership. We must expect more and demand our leaders stand up to all wrongdoings with courage and integrity. Arkansans deserve meaningful action to root out corruption without regard to party.”
“My new proposal sets out to combat public corruption and restore Arkansans’ confidence in state government,” Henderson added. “Regardless of when these breaches occurred, taking steps to prevent further incidents is the responsibility of our current leaders.
That’s why, in the absence of leadership, I am introducing five proposals to try to prevent further corruption.”
The first two planks in Henderson’s proposal speak to recent corruption in Arkansas’s state government while the remaining three relate to improvement of transparency and impartiality in legislative and electoral processes.
Henderson Campaign Proposal to Combat State Government Corruption:
1) Revoke Public Official Pensions for Abuse of Power: Right now, “unlawful killing” is the only crime that constitutes revocation of a public servant’s state pensions. If a public official, including a legislator, commits any crime relating to abuse of power, their
pension should be revoked. Many in the Arkansas legislature have turned a blind eye to corruption in order to maintain the status quo and protect those in power, including themselves, but it’s time serious ramifications are enforced for those abusing the powers
of public service.
2) Strengthen Arkansas Ethics Commission: The Arkansas Ethics Commission is under-resourced and lacks significant ability to address abuse of power by candidates or elected officials. The Commission requires additional capacity to respond immediately
and thoroughly to ethics complaints and alleged violations, as well as strictly enforce campaign finance disclosure laws. Arkansans should know our state has a culture that stands for honesty and integrity in our government.
3) Equal Ban on Legislators Becoming Lobbyists: Currently, legislators have to wait just one year before registering as a lobbyist. The number of years a legislator has served should equal the number of years he or she is prohibited from becoming a
lobbyist. For example, if a legislator serves four years, he or she must wait four years before becoming a lobbyist.
4) Close Corporate Loophole: Corporations are currently prohibited from making contributions directly to candidates. However, they can contribute to PACs, which then funnel money towards candidates. We must close this loophole to prohibit businesses from contributing to PACs.
5) Shine a Light on Dark Money: Throughout several Arkansas judicial races, millions of dollars in dark, outside money from unknown sources were spent to influence electoral outcomes. Arkansas must bring the power of elections back to the people. Any organization engaging in any political activity, including political television ads, must fully disclose who its donors are and have that information publicly available online.
Noted: No one has accused Henderson of wrongdoing, but as head of Teach for America in Arkansas, he hired a lobbyist, who paid a state senator, Jeremy Hutchinson, who helped him win a $3 million grant from the legislature and the senator’s uncle, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, to pay for Teach for America workers in Arkansas. Henderson is challenging his re-election.
To date: the governor has been restrained in remarks on burgeoning scandals. He has said any legislator who’s indicted should resign from office. His nephew hasn’t been indicted. He said the half-million he reportedly received from a lobbyist who’s pleaded guilty to bribery was legal and ethical fees for legal services.
I’ve asked the governor’s office for thoughts on the general and specific about a need for stronger ethics laws.
UPDATE: Statement from a spokesman for the governor’s campaign:
“There are inaccuracies in Mr. Henderson’s proposal – specifically the amount of time for the legislator ban isn’t one year it is two. It is important to get ethics reform right and we should be reminded that just a few years ago there were major ethics law changes made by a Senator who was later convicted of accepting kickbacks. I have previously stated that Public servants must be held accountable and if someone is charged or indicted with a crime, they should immediately resign. I will lead to achieve meaningful reform that is approached methodically to ensure that change is achieved without just throwing out talking points. I led the effort to end legislative general improvement grants and this needs to be established by law in the next session.”
Note that I asked a number of specific questions of the governor about his view on some specific ideas of my own on ethics reform, he did not
These are questions I put to governor’s office that weren’t answered:
The governor has said very little about the massive bribery allegations; the bribery attempt on the marijuana commission; Gillam’s move to a $130k lobby position.
I wonder if he has any thoughts on the need for ethics reform.
Should lawyers be able to make fees representing people with legislative interests? If yes, should it be disclosed?
Should there be restrictions on moving from legislature to state lobbying jobs?
Should corporations continue to be allowed to contribute to PACs,
Should the Ethics Commission have more resources?
Should public officials convicted of corruption charges lose their public pensions?