After a series of guilty pleas and a conviction, Arkansas politicians are finally waking up to the fact that Arkansas ethics laws and investigations of corruption are lacking. Recently, the Arkansas Senate adopted revisions to its Code of Ethics. Then, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced she would hire a pair of investigators to investigate public corruption. Attorney General Rutledge’s move illustrates how badly the legislature has restricted the Arkansas Ethics Commission by limiting its authority and by limiting it staffing. Otherwise, the Attorney General would probably not be trying to take on a role that the people previously rejected for the Office of Attorney General.
- In early 1988, Governor Clinton called a special session to adopt ethics legislation. His bill HB1032 of the Third Extraordinary Session, 1988[i] did not pass and no ethics legislation managed to pass in the special session.
- After the defeat of the ethics proposal, Governor Clinton supported a shortened ethics proposal as a measure to be voted on by the people. The proposed initiated act deleted the parts of HB1032 that would have applied to local officials and cut out creation of an ethics commission. The measure was adopted by the people in November 1988 as Initiated Measure 1 of 1988.[ii]
- Not having an ethics commission, the perception that an Attorney General would be more sympathetic to politicians spurred another initiated act in 1990 to take away enforcement from the Attorney General and transfer the power to the Arkansas Ethics Commission, to be created by the measure. This proposal was adopted by the people as Initiated Measure 1 of 1990.[iii]
The commission is not the strong agency envisioned by those who worked to create the commission and gave it the power to initiate investigations. According to a former commissioner, throughout the years the commission has asked for more staff with only limited success. Also, cited were changes in the ethics law that has weakened the commission’s role. So here we are back full circle to ethics investigations being made by the Attorney General’s Office, which was rejected by initiated act. Eventually, the problem of providing ethics investigations should be fixed by increasing the authority, independence, and staffing of the Ethics Commission. In the meantime, there seems to be plenty of corruption for the Attorney General, the feds, local prosecutors and everyone to investigate and still not get everything covered.
We would be remiss if we did not mention there is a concern that having investigations conducted by the Attorney General’s Office could be used as an excuse by the feds to punt corruption cases down to the state, causing delays and limiting continued investigations.
If you are a person who enjoys conspiracy theories here is one suggested to us. What if the feds follow policies which defer their investigations to state investigations and then the state investigations get bogged down and save some Arkansas politicians from federal prosecution. Senator Jeremy Hutchinson? Some other Arkansas politician?
We are not really into conspiracy theories, but we included this one for your entertainment. Then again …. we can all wait around to see whether the conspiracy theorists finally get one right.[iv]