In response to recent corruption charges and several convictions or guilty pleas by elected officials in Arkansas, this year’s attorney general’s office candidates offer ethics ideas.
Democratic nominee Mike Lee recently stopped by the Hot Springs Village Voice office to discuss a series of ethics proposals he hopes to seek in his legislative package next year.
Lee proposes increasing fines for violating Arkansas’ ethics laws and expanding what lobbyists must report, in response to corruption probes that have involved several former lawmakers.
In a tour across south Arkansas, Lee discussed a series of proposals he says he will seek if he’s elected attorney general. A Hot Springs resident, Lee hopes to unseat Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican who was elected to the office in 2014.
Lee says he wants to make the ethics office more proactive, rather than reacting to complaints. “I would advocate for increasing the staff and funding of the Arkansas Ethics Commission,” he said. The commission now has nine staff members and an about $800,000 annual budget.
Lee said if a similar law had been in place several years ago, it might have prevented the current public corruption problems.
He proposes raising the maximum fine per ethics violation from $2,000 to $10,000. He also wants lobbyists to disclose in a new public database the bills and amendments for which they are lobbying.
Legislators would also be required to report meetings with lobbyists in a public database.
Lee proposes requiring lobbyists to wear name tags inside the state Capitol.
In June, Rutledge announced her office was forming a public integrity division and hiring two investigators to handle corruption cases involving public officials. Rutledge’s campaign touted the division’s creation, as well as her office’s work on Medicaid fraud cases.
“Attorney General Rutledge has dramatically increased the number of investigations and convictions against those who take advantage of taxpayers,” spokesman Josh Mesker said in an email, the Democrat-Gazette reported.
Citing a news report a day earlier of a House committee chairman loaning $16,000 to the then-House speaker in 2016, on Sept. 24 Lee called for a ban on loans between lawmakers. Later in the day, Rutledge issued her own statement calling for a banthe Democrat-Gazette reported.
“To avoid even the appearance of impropriety, loans among members of the General Assembly should be prohibited,” Rutledge said. “As attorney general, I will work with the House and Senate leadership to draft legislation to ensure that this ill-advised practice is illegal.”
An attorney, Lee, 70, worked for the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission for several years. His work focused on toy safety, specifically for investigating imported toys.
Prior to earning his law degree, Lee was an engineer for Reynolds Metals Co. He worked nine years as a safety engineer for Reynolds in Jones Mills (Hot Spring County), and also worked for the company in South America.
A Batesville native, Rutledge, 42, clerked for Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Josephine Hart, served as deputy counsel for Gov. Mike Huckabee, served as a deputy prosecuting attorney in Lonoke County and served as attorney for the Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services.
Updated Oct. 2, 2018