It has been revealed through articles in the Arkansas Times that an already warm relationship between the Little Rock mayor's office and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce was heated still further by a sumptuous dinner in Paris, paid for by those inveterate romantics, the taxpayers of Little Rock. It would have been nice if Mayor Stodola and C of C director Jay Chesshir could have at least brought back a doggy bag for the rest of us.
The taxpayers' generosity was funneled through officials of the Little Rock Airport, which picked up a sizeable tab – more than $800 in U.S. currency — for dinner and drinks for Stodola, Chesshir, airport executive director Ron Mathieu and a fourth, unidentified, person. The festivities broke out during one of many overseas junkets by airport officials and their guests. When they're not in Paris, they're in Maui, it seems, or Prague or Las Vegas. Their duties have not yet taken them to Shreveport.
(Everybody except the Airport Commission seems to have had enough of Mathieu, incidentally. Every report the Times publishes uncovers more offenses at the airport — overpaid executives, overpadded expense accounts, oversneaky diversions of public funds to inappropriate purposes.)
The affair between the mayor and the chamber is a long-running thing. Through its political action committee, the chamber has contributed to Stodola's campaigns. For his part, the mayor supports the city's annual $200,000 subsidy of the chamber, a private organization, and he evidently approves of the chamber's refusal to reveal what this money is used for. It's likely that part of it, at least, is used for the same sort of thing that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spends millions of dollars on. That is, supporting causes and candidates that promote corporate well-being and keep the working class in its place. Wages are never quite low enough for the chamber of commerce.
Whatever the chamber spends the public's money on, the public is entitled to know. How many firefighters or police officers could be hired with the dollars now going in the pocket of a special-interest group that lobbies against the interests of most Little Rock residents? The U.S. Chamber just spent an estimated $75 million attacking candidates who wouldn't follow corporate orders, and it appears that some of that $75 million may have come from foreign governments, in violation of federal law. Both the U.S. Chamber and the Little Rock branch believe that if the politicians are in your pocket, you don't need the law. Government by crony is very much to their taste; progress is arrested.