by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported today (pay wall) on the post-legislative-expense-lawsuit situation at the Arkansas legislature. Reimbursements are down.
A few points to remember before cheering:
1) It's election season. The grabs will increase once legislators are safely re-elected to another term. Republican Rep. Nate Bell of Mena, for example, told the D-G he'll file all his expenses at the end of the year. Hmmm. Maybe rules ought to specify monthly filing, so as to prevent legislators from hiding election-related expense reimbursements until AFTER the election.
2) We've seen only the leading edge of what legislators hope are legitimate ways to charge off home and private expenses to taxpayers, along with a little egg money for spouses in the form of reimbursements for answering the telephone. There will be abuses. Legislators with professional office jobs will have an edge on others in claiming a portion of their pre-existing costs can be attributed to legislative service. Some will be greedier than others in trying to direct more money into the family till.
The good news is that the public can see the reimbursement claim forms and make their own judgments. Local opponents will have every opportunity to put those reimbursements and payments to family members under a microscope. No more blanket claims, filed in a batch before the year begins.
3) A couple of lawmakers won approval for reimbursement for travel to partisan political activities. Is that official business? The call of the leadership is, apparently, that it is. Fine. Let that be considered by the public and potential opponents, too. Same thing for attendance at national conferences and road trips organized by special interest lobbies. If legislators think these are legitimate business expenses, turn in the claims and let taxpayers foot the bill. Just be prepared to explain.