The Cure for Influence Peddling in Arkansas
By Brenda Vassaur Taylor
November 10, 2015 ( updated 5:25PM)
During the last few years, as Arkansas has increasingly elected Republicans to manage the people’s business, it may appear to many that influence peddling and public corruption is on the rise. History shows there has always been this corruption on the other side of the aisle. But new, shocking and sensational revelations may leave voters wondering –“Can we really improve our lot with the vote?” The answer is a resounding “YES!”
Review the following political activity (some criminal and others — something certainly less egregious.) They may include new or old stories about your favorite politician or political groups. You may be entertained or shocked. Or upon reflection you may be left with baited breath for–what’s next…
But keep in mind. Smaller government is the key to reducing all government problems, including corruption among those of the political class.
And the size of government is still one thing that can be changed by the vote in Arkansas. So, in this upcoming primary election, elect candidates who promise and vote for smaller government. Political corruption may never go away, but with smaller government, its direct negative effect on each of us will be lessened.
Time-line of influence peddling in Arkansas:
1-January 2013 Sen Jon Woods (R).
During the General Session, Senator Woods was the sole Senate sponsor of the “Ethics Amendment-Issue 3” to the Arkansas Constitution passed by the voters in November 2014 which (in spite of its title) doubled terms for the state House and Senate, increased legislative salaries by 2.5 times, while claiming to reform ethics between lobbyist and legislators.
Though he had the endorsement of Governor Asa Hutchinson (as evidenced by an October 20, 2015 fundraiser in SD7), Woods withdrew as a candidate for re-election to the state senate on November 7, 2015 (after setting up his successor for his Senate race–Rep Lance Eads, with his friend, Clint Penzo running for Eads’ spot in the House). Woods stated as the cause for this sudden withdrawal as a (what is obviously also sudden) desire to spend more time with his family.[i] Whether there are additional reasons why Senator Woods stepped away from this senate race….time will tell.
2-May 2013 – Arkansas State Treasurer Martha Shoffner (D)
Was arrested on a charge of extortion, when she accepted money hidden in a pie box. In August 2015 Martha Shoffner was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for taking a total of $36,000 in bribes –and convicted of six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion, and seven counts of receipt of a bribe.[ii]
3-May 2013—Arkansas Circuit Judge Mike Maggio
In March 2014 information was leaked through the media that Judge Mike Maggio had received campaign funds of $24,000 in May 2013 which he later admitted influenced him to reduce a $5.2 million dollar judgment to $1 million against the donor/defendant to the judge’s election campaign (the basis for his bribery conviction announced January 2015.[iii]) The contribution to the judge’s campaign was made with the alleged assistance of a lobbyist and then term limited state senator, Gilbert Baker.)
4-August 2013—Senator Paul Bookout (D)
Senator Paul Bookout resigned his position as state senator due to his use of campaign funds for personal expenses, eventually leading to his guilty plea in March of 2015 to a federal felony for mail fraud.[iv] From his amended ethics filings, his personal use of these funds was obviously his practice prior to 2013.
5-In 2013-now Chief of Staff to the Governor, Michael Lamoureux (R)
While serving as President (PT) of the Arkansas state Senate, then Senator Lamoureux received $120,000, as a fee paid directly to his personal law firm, from Arkansas Faith and Freedom, a 501c4 non-profit. This fee was paid to Senator Lamoureux from the non-profit’s total gross donations received that year of $141,000.[v] The services reportedly rendered by his law firm were those as a fundraiser for the organization. Lamoureux was reported to be the only attorney in his firm at that time. These donations were reported to have been made through Arkansas lobbyists, including Gilbert Baker, Ted Mullenex, and Bruce Hawkins.
News of this fee paid to Lamoureux broke late October 2015 with the Governor’s office claiming that these activities by Chief Lamoureux happened before he started to work for them in November 2014. At this point one also must ask, with the change of jobs, does his law firm now do work for the state as well?
6-February 2014—Representative John Burris (R)
May 2014 an ethics complaint was filed against then term limited Representative John Burris during his campaign for the state Senate (SD17)[vi] alleging that he had filed incomplete financial information as a House Member as he had obtained a loan for $216,800 February 2014 from a bank (controlled by the then Speaker of the House, Rep Davy Carter) on a salary shown on his financial statements of less than $16,000 per year (which was set to end due to his term-limited elected position.)
Rep John Burris did not win election to the Senate in 2014 and is now employed by a consulting firm in Little Rock and advises Governor Hutchinson and his staff and legislators concerning health care issues and Medicaid reform, to name a few.
7-In 2014—Conservative Arkansas (an Arkansas PAC[vii])
Turns out during 2014 this PAC received $12,500 in total contributions, but paid out only $1,100 (less than 9% of total annual donations) to candidates, which is the purpose for its existence. The balance of $11,441 was reported to have been paid to the consulting firm, Diamond State Consulting (Keith Emis)—then political manager to the John Burris SD 17 campaign in 2014.
The Conservative Arkansas 2014 ethics reports show no contributions to the Burris’ campaign (even though there were radio ads played in SD17 supporting Burris quoting Conservative Arkansas as sponsors of the ads.[viii])
Arkansas law only allows reasonable administrative expenses to be paid by a PAC, with all other monies received, to go directly to candidates or ballot committees as cash or in-kind contributions. Reporting ninety-one percent (91%) as advertising is not likely a reasonable administrative fee or fair play to donors or the voters. So the question left unanswered on the Ethics Reports for the public to know, why would Conservative Arkansas pay such a huge fee to Diamond State Consulting and so little to candidates?
8-December 2014-Senator David Sanders (R)
Senator Sanders is credited with being one of the three architects of the Arkansas Obamacare Medicaid Expansion-Private Option passed in Arkansas in April 2013. Perhaps as a direct consequence, Senator Sanders received large donations from the health care industry toward his 2014 Senate race –even though he did not face an opponent in the primary or general that year.
It appears from his financial disclosure filings with the SOS that total contributions received during his unopposed primary race totaled $136,395 while during his unopposed general race he received an additional $15,250. This is a total $151,645 received in campaign contributions by Sen David Sanders to win 2014 elections during which he faced no opponents.
Under Arkansas law, this caused him to be forced to empty his campaign account of all but his legislative salary by the end of December 2014. His financial disclosure filings with the Secretary of State reflect that he returned $31,850 to donors and $45,000 was paid out to qualified recipients.
It appears from his filings online with the SOS that at least $15,000 of the total $76,850 were misapplied,[ix] as follows:
- On November 3, 2014, he reports to have paid $5,000 to his own PAC—Building a Better Arkansas PAC[x] which is not a qualified legal recipient of those funds, as a PAC does not qualify to receive surplus funds.
- Also, online filings with SOS reflect two additional problems with the PAC, itself:
- It did not register as a PAC within 15 days of receipt of the reported funds as required under the law—registering on December 31, 2014; and
- There is no online financial disclosure reports filed by the PAC with the SOS to show receipt of any funds, much less the $5,000 reportedly paid to it by Sen Sanders’ campaign on November 3, 2014.
- On December 28, 2014 Sen Sanders reports to have paid $10,000 to his then employer Arkansas Baptist School. He states in his statement of financial interest to be employed by the school as the director of institutional advancement (fundraiser.) Whether his salary is based upon a percentage of dollars he raises for the school is unknown.
- Also, online filings with SOS reflect two additional problems with the PAC, itself:
9-April 2015–Senator Jake Files (R)
News broke late October 2015 that a loan made by lobbyist Bruce Hawkins to Senator Jake Files in the amount of $30,000 (unreported by Lobbyist Hawkins—due to an alleged oversight) had been made on the same day that Files reports to have paid off a hot check in the amount of $6,868.16. The news report also mentioned several tax liens held by the state against Files’ companies, while Files serves as chair of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee.[xi]
As mentioned, some of these acts by our political class are criminal, some may be influence peddling, and some simply an oversights by the offender.
But as we try to keep our eye on our tax dollars and how government spends them, we ask that you not simply complain or, worse, refuse to be shocked –but reach conclusions which result in you taking action.
Smaller government means less corruption from the standpoint of math alone. As echoed so well in a 2008 article by John Stossel, smaller government simply provides less incentives for payoffs.[xii] With less dollars at stake to grow this behemoth government the voter/taxpayer has a better chance of economic survival. This election primary cycle, do your homework and learn which candidate’s support smaller government. And if they are a candidate who has served in office before, look at their voting record. (If you need help doing that, contact us.)
Elect those who will give us smaller government. As my friend puts it so well—“Rather than giving them the keys to a Cadillac, give them the keys to a moped [his picture of smaller government]—then we don’t care who drives it.”
[i] Sen Jon Woods
[ii] Treasurer Martha Shoffner
[iii]Judge Mike Maggio
[iv] Sen Paul Bookout
[v] Sen Michael Lamoureux
[vi] Rep John Burris
[vii] Purpose of a PAC in AR: established for the sole purpose of receiving for and giving to campaigns to elect candidates or pass or defeat issues
[viii] Conservative Arkansas:
Financial Disclosure Statements filed with AR Secretary of State, October 12, 2014 and January 11, 2015 as 3rd and 4th Quarters respectively:
[ix] Sen David Sanders
[x] Building a Better Arkansas PAC
[xi]Senator Jake Files