Excuses

We have compiled a list of responses you may hear when you discuss this issue with your legislators. This list is based on actual responses we have received. You will find a statement following each item on the list, explaining why the excuse does not make sense.

Excuse #1: State legislative salaries are too low, or No one can live on what we pay legislators.

Legislative salaries are established by the Constitution of the State of Arkansas. If the salaries paid are too low (currently over $15,000 dollars per year, indexed for inflation), then the voters may consider raising them. Since our legislature is in session an average of just six weeks per year, many people make the case that current compensation is adequate. In any case, legislators’ taking extra expense money to compensate for low pay is unconstitutional, illegal, unethical, and wrong. Signing the pledge does not say anyone favors keeping legislative salaries at their current level. It says legislators agree to follow the law.

Excuse #2: The Pledge is unnecessary. All legislators already take an oath to obey the Arkansas Constitution and all laws of the State, so taking a pledge to do so regarding expense reimbursements is not needed.Wait a Minute

It appears 129 out of 135 state representatives and senators are violating the Constitution and the law by abusing the expense reimbursement system. This pledge, which takes less than three minutes to read, understand, and sign, commits a representative to follow the Constitution and the law on this important matter. Refusing to sign it is a refusal to promise to do the right thing. And even if it is “unnecessary,” it is an important indication that a legislator—even one who is already following the law—promises to continue to do so. The citizens of Arkansas deserve such a commitment from legislators, particularly in an area in which there is widespread abuse.

Excuse #3: I don’t need to sign the pledge. I have already committed to change my expense reimbursement process by submitting receipts for every expense, by using proper accounting procedures, etc.

The lack of proper documentation (like receipts) is an important problem in the expense reimbursement issue, but it is not the biggest problem. The biggest aspect of abuse involves funneling expense money through “third party entities” like family businesses. In many cases, legislator-owned businesses are being used to bill the state for “legislative support services.” As these businesses are owned by the legislators, their personally owned business profits from the expense money, and the legislator can say “I as an individual am not benefitting from this” (while a business the legislator owns is benefitting). That is wrong, and we want assurance—as spelled out in the Pledge—that family members won’t benefit through this manipulation of the process.

Excuse #4: The Parliamentarian/Speaker of the House/my attorney/my accountant/etc. said I am fine with what I am doing and that I don’t need to sign the pledge.

The fact is, our legislators do not work for the Parliamentarian, the Speaker of the House, or anyone but us. Many legislators are unconstitutionally and illegally abusing the expense system, and we want it to stop. Any reading of Amendment 70 to the Arkansas State Constitution and the governing statute makes clear what is going on is wrong. A simple test of whether a legislator is committed to stopping expense abuse is whether they will sign the pledge or not.

Excuse #5: The issue is valid, and we promise to look into it and to resolve it. There is no need for a written pledge.

Tricky SituationAn oral promise to “look into it,” or verbal assurance that “we will fix it” is worth the paper it is printed on. We know administrative changes take time. Every month that goes by means additional $200,000 of taxpayer money is being used to reimburse questionable expenses. If resolving it takes even just twelve months, that is over $2.4 million in wasted taxpayer money being paid to legislators with questionable expense submissions. Let’s stop this abuse now before any more money is illicitly spent.

Excuse #6: If you think this is bad, you should see how another state agency is wasting money.

We will be happy to look into other abuses, but this issue needs to be fixed right now, and a pledge from our legislator to follow the law—by signing the Pledge—is the best way to get their commitment to do so.

Excuse #7: I have done many things to promote ethics in government. I don’t need to prove myself.

We are grateful for everything ethical that any legislator has done, but ethical government should be the standard and the normal way of doing business in government. The Pledge is about demonstrating that a legislator will not participate in an illegal process, and that legislators are willing to state that publicly. If a legislator declines to sign the pledge, that legislator is declining to commit himself or herself to doing that.

Excuse #8: Of course I am paying my spouse for services. My spouse is doing real work for me in my role of legislator.

young coupleSpouses of leaders in government and other enterprises play important roles of support. But it is inappropriate for a legislator to pay his or her spouse a fixed amount each month for non-descript services that are—in violation of the governing statute—neither itemized nor documented.

And some legislators have been so bold as to say that since expense payment are going to a spouse (in the form of payment for “legislative support services”) they aren’t violating the Constitution which restricts the amount a legislator can be paid to only their legislative salary. We say hogwash. Any reasonable person understands that if an immediate family household member—a husband or a wife—is benefiting from extra income from the state, there is no doubt the spirit of the Constitution—which makes clear the legislator cannot receive any state compensation beyond their mandated salary—is being violated.

Signing the pledge sends a strong statement that a legislator intends to manage his or her expenses ethically. Declining to sign it sends the opposite message.

Excuse #9: There are so many other important issues we must deal with. We don’t have time to deal with this right now.

There are many important issues to be dealt with. But is there any issue more important than ethics in government? If there is evidence that some legislators are abusing the expense reimbursement system for their own enrichment, shouldn’t we demand that it stop? And shouldn’t every legislator that is for ethical government be eager to sign a pledge stating he or she will not be a party to illegal expense reimbursements? The pledge takes a few minutes to read, understand, and sign. Those few minutes are a minor investment in ethical government, an investment we want every ethical legislator to make.

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