by Max Brantley
The line is open. Finishing up:
* IN THE OIL SPILL ZONE: Some young activists from the Tar Sands Blockade, a group that opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, is ranging all over the Mayflower oil spill zone to document the mess left by the Exxon Pegasus pipeline rupture that spewed Canadian tar sands on a Mayflower neighborhood and significant amounts of nearby wetland. The group has corrected earlier reports about movement of spilled oil to a wetland area, but the videos show clearly enough that the sticky residue is turning up in all kinds of places. Not pretty. Still no word if Faulkner County officials ever plan to retake control of public matters from the giant international oil company that has run the show to date. (This, by the way, is chump change stuff from the company that gave you the Valdez disaster. A few million dollars worth of headache in backwoods, energy company-loving Faulkner County is peanuts to them; they have no reason to be any less condescending and controlling than they have and plan to be.)Interesting story in the Jonesboro Sun about an ethics complaint filed by a Jonesboro resident against Sen. Paul Bookout (Is he still in the Senate? You could hardly tell it.)
Bookout was unopposed for re-election. Nonetheless, he raised more than $80,000 and spent more than $50,000, a whopping $29,000 of it in unitemized "entertainment" expenses. Fun fellow. He says he followed the law. He didn't provide any details on that entertainment to the inquiring Sun reporter, however.
The complaint pends. Surely to goodness the state Ethics Commission will, in term, issue a stern cautionary message and a $100 fine.
This is but another good example of the utter emptiness of state ethics laws.
1) They are not very tough to begin with.
2) The legislature controls the budget of the agency that enforces the law.
3) The agency that enforces the law has a tiny staff.
4) Ethics laws are only enforced in the breach, in response to complaints. There's no systematic review of campaign filings for gaping questions such as this one.
5) Lobbyists and greedy legislators have wormed around the rules and law in such a way as to make a mockery of the idea of clean government. Group events, ticketed events, splitting, stacking, simple failure to report. All these things are the lingo of a system that not only doesn't discourage corruption, it eoncourages creative corruption. The ethics law is meaningful only for the honest and careful. Diogenes would need a pretty big effin' lantern to find many of those under the Capitol dome.
Thus it is that an absolutely well-meaning effort to improve things — the proposed constitutional amendment I wrote about yesterday — already has lobbyists laughing up their sleeves. Enshrining free banquets and junkets in the Constitution, beyond reach of statute or neutered ethics regulators is ethics reform? A pay raise and longer time in office is ethics reform?
Only in Arkansas.