Why does any of this matter? Why should we care if our legislators are making a little extra money?
Here is why.
The constitution and statutes of the State of Arkansas are clear. As you can read elsewhere on this site (see What the Constitution Says and What the Law Says), state legislators are prohibited from receiving any state income other than their salaries. Legislator abuse of the expense system to supplement income is not only unethical, it is categorically illegal and unconstitutional.
How can we expect our legislators to behave ethically on other matters if they are “working the system” to their personal benefit?
Some legislators argue they don’t earn enough for what they do, so they need the extra expense money. Our response? We can have a discussion about legislative compensation, but illegally taking expenses as income now is not the way to deal with the issue.
Others argue they are complying with the law, because expense money is being sent through a third party (see What is LLC or DBA?) owned by a spouse. Our response? Using a technicality to bring extra income into a household is not ethical. Yes, the money isn’t coming directly to the legislator. But sending it to a spouse still provides it to the immediate family household of a legislator.
And more, a lot of money is involved in questionable expense reimbursements: In excess of $2 million per year!
And let’s think about what it takes to spend $1,500 PER MONTH on office supplies! In one month, you could purchase 187,547 sheets of copy paper, 55 black ink cartridges or 24,900 file folders! And yet our legislators file for (and receive) reimbursement at that level.
Not surprisingly, many rationalize what they are doing. Here is an email we received from a legislator to why he was declining to sign our pledge:
Do you notice how he explains he is not claiming for mileage reimbursement in this expense category? We suspect he thought that phrase would be lost on us. And do you notice the legalistic rationalization? His wife is taking the money, so to him it’s okay. We disagree.