Category: Arkansas State Legislature

Searcy Police Chief Renting Apartment With Campaign Funds

In his latest campaign expenditure report, Searcy police chief and candidate for state representative Kyle Osborne reported a $400 expense for “rent.” The address given leads to an apartment complex in Searcy.

State ethics laws regarding the use of campaign funds for explicitly personal reasons are fairly clear — it’s a no no. However, the ethics commission reserves the right to determine whether or not expenses are for “personal use” or for campaign use.

The following paragraph is included in the ethics commission’s guidelines for campaign expenditures under Section 209, “Personal Expenses – Prohibited Uses:”

(c) Mortgage, Rent and Utility Payments – This includes any payments with respect to a personal residence of the candidate or his or her family, even if a portion of the residence is used by the campaign.  It does not include (i) payments made by a candidate with respect to other buildings or offices or office space used solely for campaign purposes, such as the campaign’s headquarters, even if the candidate owns the space used, so long as the space is not the candidate’s personal residence and the campaign pays a fair market value for use of the space;

My interpretation of this law is fairly simple: campaign funds can be used for rent as long as the space is used exclusively for campaign purposes. If any part of the space is used for personal residence or purposes, campaign funds cannot be used.

I called the ethics commission and requested some clarification on these guidelines. They said  my interpretation was more or less correct and that there are some circumstances in which using campaign funds for rent could be permissible, so long as the funds were not used for personal use. The determination as to whether or not an expenditure is for “personal use” or “campaign use” is an interpretation the Arkansas Ethics Commission reserves the right to make, per Section 210.

One possible explanation for the expense listed on Osborne’s report is that the apartment is being used to house campaign workers. Osborne has hired the Markham Group (he paid them $3,800 last month) out of Little Rock to run his campaign. Perhaps he is paying for an apartment for them to sleep in and stage their campaign out of. This would be somewhat of a gray area and the ethics commission would have to make a ruling about whether or not this qualified as “personal use” or “campaign use.”

If the funds were being used for a campaign office or for official campaign purposes, we might expect to see the expenses recur on Osborne’s monthly filings — he has been campaigning and reporting campaign expenses for several months. But we do not. Unless I am missing something, this rent expense is only shown on the September report.

Read the full story at The Arkansas Project.

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Rep. Tiffany Rogers Is a Double-Dipper

Service in the state legislature is a part-time job. The yearly compensation is $15,689 (although that doesn’t include per diem payments), and it’s understood that legislators will probably find other employment when the General Assembly is not in session.

But legislators must obey state law. Legislators who also hold a state government job can’t accept two different paychecks for the same work period. It’s OK to get one paycheck for Monday’s work and a second paycheck for Tuesday’s work, but if you’re getting paid from two different sources for working the same work period, it’s a problem. Similarly, if you’re a legislator who is paid to be in a non-legislative state government office doing a non-legislative state government job, but you’re actually doing legislative work or political work, it’s a problem.

Accepting payment for Job 1 while actually doing Job 2 is known informally as “double-dipping.” Legislators aren’t supposed to do it: as one of George Costanza’s antagonists once said, you’re supposed to “just take one dip and end it.” Rep. Tiffany Rogers appears to have broken this rule repeatedly.

As the Director of Continuing Education for Phillips Community College, Rep. Tiffany Rogers is paid, on average, about $40,000 a year. That yearly salary figure would ordinarily be about $10,000 higher – except that, when the legislature is in session, Rogers usually takes an unpaid personal leave of absence. There’s nothing wrong with that – someone in her position would customarily take unpaid leave so as to eliminate the double-dipping that would be caused by accepting multiple paychecks for the same work. However, public records demonstrate that Rogers has repeatedly neglected to reduce her compensation from Phillips Community College while doing legislative or political work. In fact, she appears to have taken after George Costanza on at least four occasions.

Read the full story at The Arkansas Project.

What Did We Learn in the District 46 Debate?

Last night, I witnessed the Searcy debate between incumbent Rep. Mark Biviano and his Democrat challenger Kyle Osborne. If the voters make a choice based on the candidates’ performances, Osborne is in serious trouble.

In his opening statement, Osborne began by saying he’s running for state representative because he has 30 years of law enforcement experience and “we need a little law enforcement in Little Rock.” He continued by saying he wants to go to the legislature to “serve alongside our hometown boy Mike Beebe.” You know, the Governor Beebe that’s running around the state calling for “civility” while telling Republicans to “shut their mouths” and accusing AFP of “trashing Arkansas.”

He also repeated the tired talking point that “Arkansas is 5th in education” (again, this claim has been fully debunked here at The Arkansas Project). Osborne also said he wanted to help Beebe finish eliminating the grocery tax and that, as police chief, “I’ve done everything I could to double the training budget for the city police.”

Biviano began by asking the moderator if the altitude had been properly adjusted in the room before the debate: “You’ve gotta love Al Gore,” he quipped. He then began the substantive portion of his remarks by saying he was running for reelection to give his children better opportunities. He said that,

“To be an effective legislator, you have to want to serve. We have too many rubber stamp legislators.”

As for his platform, Biviano espoused his belief in lower taxes, education reform, and a business-friendly regulatory climate. Citing the statistic that Arkansas has lost 30,000 private sector jobs in the last 5 years, he ended his remarks by saying, “It’s time for Arkansas to do better.”

Read the full story from The Arkansas Project.

Promoting Responsibility: A Closer Look At Arkansas Lottery Scholarship Reform

After Rep. Nate Bell floated his proposal to reform state lottery scholarships last week, I contacted Professor Robert Steinbuch of Little Rock’s Bowen School of Law.  Steinbuch is an expert on student loan policy, and he had a great deal to say about the lottery’s financing of higher education as well.

Steinbuch generally supports the idea that we are wasting some money in higher education—that we need more accountability, and when a lottery scholarship student drops out of school, someone often should have to repay the funds to the state, with a significant caveat:

“Family calamities and medical illnesses should excuse students from repayment. And if a student flunks out while doing all the right things, he should not have to repay the money.  But if the student fails to take his responsibilities seriously, causing him to flunk out, then he should repay.”

Steinbuch’s proposal, however, also adds a key element:  the determination of responsibility.  That is, “who is at fault for the student’s exit from school?”  The student?  An unforeseen circumstance?  Steinbuch’s answer (at least in some cases): the school.

Read my full interview with the professor at The Arkansas Project.

Governor Beebe Should Take His Own Advice

I contacted State Senator Jonathan Dismang yesterday evening after learning of Governor Beebe’s unhinged comments about the Searcy bypass project.

The senator tells me he is confident that the trucker tax exemption will not effect the project:

I have talked to 3 commissioners and the director who have all repeatedly indicated that our project will not be impacted by the funding shortage created by the trucker tax exemption.

The director he’s referring to is the director of the Arkansas Highway Department, if I understood correctly.  We’ll keep you posted on further developments.

In my estimation, this is further evidence that Governor Beebe is simply playing a sick political game & using a sensitive issue in his hometown to take cheap shots at Dismang.  Truly ironic comments from a governor who has repeatedly spoken out against “DC politics,” and said this last fall:

“You elect people to work together to solve the problem.  And you may not agree on every issue and you may not get your way on every issue. And while I’m not suggesting that you prostitute your principles, I am suggesting that you act like adults and that you try to resolve our nation’s problems…

“If the people in Washington, D.C., would take a lesson from the people in Arkansas, we could solve a lot of these problems a lot earlier.”

Seems to me that the people in DC are acting like the folks in Arkansas and that is the problem.  Perhaps the governor should take his own advice and start acting like an adult.

The Circle Won’t Be Broken: Beebe Sings Bass, Searcy Paper Sings Tenor

Well, a story in today’s Searcy paper is raising some eyebrows:  Governor Beebe now says he “won’t push” for the Searcy bypass project.

This comes after Judge Lincoln told voters last week that Beebe played a role in crafting his failed tax plan to fund White County’s portion of the project.  According to Lincoln, “Governor Beebe wanted us to form a strategic plan, and the tax/bypass was part of our strategic plan.”

So what gives?

From the story:

“I’m obviously for the Searcy bypass project, but I’m not going to ask the highway department to spend money they don’t have.  If they don’t have the money, they’ll have to make adjustments.”

He went on to say, he really should stay out of it because it’s not really any of his business, but he’s involving himself anyway:

“I’m not in any position to rank all the highways in the state of Arkansas.  That’s what the highway commission is for. Obviously, I have a little prejudice in favor of Searcy because that’s where I’m from, but I still have to govern the whole state.”

And while staying out of it, Governor Beebe added:

“It’s really sad. It’s sad for Searcy. It’s sad for any projects around the state.”

So, to summarize:  He’s going to stay out of it because he’s not really in any position to rank the projects, but he fully supports the project, but he’s not going to add any pressure to the commission to do the project, but he does have prejudice in favor of Searcy, and he’s going to stay out of it, but it’s really sad for Searcy.

And believe it or not, this is all those evil Republicans’ fault because they blocked the trucker tax exemption repeal!  Specifically, the governor says it was Searcy’s Senator Jonathan Dismang’s fault.  How convenient, seeing as how one of Beebe’s friends is running against Dismang this year.

Two entities deserve to be scolded for this joke of a political move.  First of all, the governor.  What the heck, dude?  Jerking your hometown around like this?  You’re using a local hot potato issue and holding it over the heads of Searcy citizens to bully votes out of Senator Dismang and/or to punish him.  Of course this is nothing new–politicians have playing these games for years.  But this is a reach, even for you and besides, I thought you were against DC politics?

Governor Beebe admits himself he has no control over this issue, and he should probably stay out of it, so he should do it.  All indications from the state–except from the governor himself, of course–are that the project will go forward.  He is beating a dead horse, and a controversial one at that.  This is politics at its worst.

Secondly, shame on our beloved Searcy paper.  They continue to sing right along with the Democrats’ narrative.  They are accepting Governor Beebe’s premise that the project remains in peril because of conservative efforts to stabilize the state budget and framing these issues in such a manner that reflect poorly on Senator Dismang.  They want to continue the work that they started against me and other local conservatives last fall:  “Evil, heartless conservatives are the ones who are holding this bypass project back.  Conservatives are the ones holding back ‘progress.'”

What the paper is doing is shameless.  They’re giving Governor Beebe a pass on provably false statements so they can continue to advance the narrative that conservatism hurts progress.

If I had made the same types of false statements that the governor made, I would be ridiculed and mocked, disparaged as a ‘local conspiracy theorist.’  But the paper doesn’t question the governor because his comments advance their agenda of silencing conservative voices & distorting the truth.

I’m not sure who is singing the lead, but there’s no disputing that the paper and Governor Beebe are singing the same song.

I have contacted Senator Dismang for comment, as well as Searcy city officials.  We’ll keep you posted.

Arkansas House GOP Unveils SIMPLE Plan

Something else (besides the breaking of the Petrino scandal) happened on April 5th:  Republicans in the Arkansas House, poised to take control of the body for the first time since Reconstruction, unveiled their platform for the 2013 general assembly.

(We have previously outlined pieces of the platform.)

I encourage our readers to view the platform at www.ARHouse.org  It is not the typical platitudes.  It is a very detailed, substantive plan with many ideas that have been proven to be fundamentally sound & successful in other states.

SIMPLE is, of course, an acronym:

  • S – Spending Restraints
  • I – Income & Other Tax Reform
  • M – Medicaid Sustainability
  • P – Protecting Arkansas’s Future
  • L – Legal & Regulatory Reform
  • E – Educational Excellence

The entire press conference is not available in one YouTube clip, but since we are a Searcy-based blog, we will share our state rep’s comments.  Here are Rep. Mark Biviano’s comments.  I particularly appreciate the remarks about transparency: