The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports on the firming up of new ethics rules to govern members of the state Senate. There’s reason for skepticism about the effectiveness.
First, the big emphasis seems to be disclosure of law firm clients, whether related to a lawyer-legislator or not. That might strike at the long-rumored influence of law firm retainer fees from major lobbies. But where was the concern, pre-indictment, of all the legal work that the governor’s nephew and Senate leader Jim Hendren’s cousin, Jeremy Hutchinson, was piling up in plain view?
The same could be said of colleague silence on the “consulting” businesses set up my various legislators that also operated openly in the past.
This leads me to the main flaw in this PR exercise:
The rule allows complaints only by other senators — who depend on their colleagues for votes on matters large and small — or by Senate staff, whose salaries depend on the senators. An ethics rule that doesn’t allow outside complaints by people with valuable knowledge (
But Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said he worried about the possible proliferation of frivolous complaints against senators from groups outside the Senate.
Depending on other senators to do right? Look no farther than ethics champion Sen. Jim Hendren. He has admitted being offered a bribe once by Sen. Jon Woods, but also said he declined to participate in an FBI sting of Woods, leaving Woods to operate feloniously for four more years in the Senate before the feds caught up with him. Hendren didn’t even warn Uncle Asa Hutchinson off headlining a 2016 fund-raiser for Woods shortly before the press of a federal investigation forced him out of a re-election race.
Note also: Sen. Jonathan Dismang, who’s an accountant, and Sen. Missy Irvin, whose husband runs a medical practice, championed the rules. Should Dismang report his accounting firm clients who employ lobbyists? Should Irvin report specifics about Medicaid and Medicare income for her husband’s medical practice, or contracts, if any, with hospitals and insurance companies? Or is disclosure an issue only for lawyers?