by Max Brantley
John Brummett asks this morning if the legislative expense reimbursement scheme is a scam? I'm confident to answer that question in the affirmative and predict success for the illegal exaction lawsuit filed by the Arkansas Public Law Center, a nonprofit group of which I'm a board member.
Arkansas Supreme Court justices will ultimately decide, of coourse. But it's hard for me to figure how 130 or so legislators have had identical expenses month after month and year after year. They have routinely filed (pre-filed actually) for these identical amounts when the Constitution sets a clear pay cap and requires that additional money be paid only for documented expenses.
Talk of IRS rules is irrelevant in this discussion, except in contributing circumstantial evidence that the payments are unconstitutional (for example, when legislators report the money to the feds as income, as virtually all view it.) The Arkansas Constitution is the arbiter here, not the IRS.
I bet that monthly expense reimbursement claims have begun changing at the Arkansas Legislature. I will take a look Monday. I've been told some plan to switch to a documented reimbursement approach. That's good. But eternal vigilance will still be required. Experience years ago with certain constitutional officers seeking to get around pay limits suggest avenues for abuse in expense reimbursement — bodacious rental claims for use of home "offices" and payments to spouses for phone answering duty, for example.