Tuesday, September 12, 2017
They're called General Improvement Funds, but their effect has been to generally disimprove state government. Because they amount to just another slush fund that attracts the kind of politicians out to curry favor with voters at public expense. Heaven forbid they should use their own campaign funds to campaign. These GIFs have left a long, slimy trail in their wake, and by now more than one Arkansas pol has been caught up in its sticky web.
Mike Wilson, former state representative from Jacksonville, has been fighting to close this mantrap for years, with some if not enough success. He's already won one landmark lawsuit intended to end this kind of legislative malpractice, but now he faces a different set of justices on the state's Supreme Court. It seems a reformer's work is never done, for as soon as one fault line is repaired, another opens wide, all set to swallow up a new generation of well-meaning but outmatched citizens. Good government requires the kind of persistence Counselor-at-law Wilson keeps demonstrating. He deserves congratulations and support in his admirable efforts. For the finaglers with other people's money never sleep.
This state's highest court may have ruled before that, contrary to good law and good sense, various legislators have been telling the assorted bureaucrats of the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District how to spend these general (dis)improvement funds. But in more recent times, the state's law heads and even a county circuit judge have disagreed with Mike Wilson in his attempt to fight the good fight. Again and again if need be.
Over the years, the tendency of lawless legislators to direct how these GIFs should be spent no matter what the law says has grown from a temptation into a custom. By now it's developed into a federal case, becoming the focus of a federal investigation into a couple of highly suspect outfits: Ecclesia College in Springdale and Decision Point Inc. in Bentonville. And between the two, they've collected hundreds of thousands in grants. It sounds like nice work if you can get it, and both got it. And then got into lots of trouble.
By now, one former state representative has pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, while another former state senator has pled innocent to charges of fraud and money-laundering. So at this point the machinery of the law can and should be allowed to run its course without any further editorial kibitzing from this or any other quarter, for the Democrat-Gazette's investigative reporters have done a fine job of laying out all the many scandals that all these leads have attracted--the way flies are attracted to honey.
For its part, the state Senate's caucus of Republican legislators has deemed it necessary to issue a statement calling on any members of the Ledge who might be involved in schemes that violate the public trust surrender their prominent posts in the Ledge, while the leader of the state's GOP majority in the Arkansas legislature, The Hon. and honorable Jim Hendren of Gravette, now says that "certainly it's a possibility" that even more legislators will be charged with crimes or indicted for something or another. For it's an old law of politics: Where there is power, there'll be someone somewhere, or maybe a lot of someones everywhere, all too eager to abuse it.
So, good citizens and well-soaked taxpayers of Arkansas, En Garde! As always.
Editorial on 09/12/2017
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