As you might have heard, the Arkanas Ethics Commission found probable cause on Tuesday (Jan. 26) for one or more of the violations alleged against State Treasurer Dennis Milligan. This means that the Ethics Commission will send Milligan an offer of settlement–basically, “if you admit to these violations, you can pay this fine and the matter will be closed”–which he will have ten days to respond to. If he does not accept the settlement, a hearing on the merits of the allegations will come next.
Whether he accepts the settlement offer or not, however, we’ve officially reached the point where Milligan and his lawyer, Byron Freeland, were objectively, laughably incorrect when they asserted that there was no merit to any of the allegations and that everything would be dismissed. We’ve also reached the point where any elected official with an ounce of dignity and a shred of humility to attempt to keep his nose clean and avoid anything that might look like yet another ethical violation.1
Apparenty, Dennis Milligan did not get that memo:
Thursday, Arkansas Treasurer Dennis Milligan and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge arrived at Huckabee 2016 headquarters in Urbandale, Iowa, and prepared to join the final push. They were joined by former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, Home Improvement actor Jimmy Labriola and a host of Huckabee’s relatives.
“If it means sweeping the floor, I’ll be jumping in sweeping the floors,” Milligan said. “Mike’s been a great leader for Arkansas, a great influence on me and we’re just proud to be up here helping him out any way that we possibly can. He’s demonstrated a great ability to be able to lead our state and I have no doubt in my mind he’s very capable of leading our country.”
Although Huckabee later joked about getting a broom for Milligan, campaign officials said Milligan’s primary task, at least Monday evening, would be to speak on the candidate’s behalf at one of the caucus sites.
Thursday, Milligan and Rutledge had tickets to the night’s Republican debates and were scheduled to appear and praise Huckabee’s performance later in the evening.
It shall be unlawful for any public servant, as defined in § 21-8-402, to devote any time or labor during usual office hours toward the campaign of any other candidate for office or for the nomination to any office.
“Public servant” is defined in 21-8-402 as “all public officials, public employees, and public appointees.” “Public official” means “a legislator or any other person holding an elective office of any governmental body.”
The usual office hours of both the Treasurer’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office are 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. Friday, January 29 and Monday, February 1, are not state holidays; accordingly the regular business hours of the two offices on those days are 8am to 5pm.
Now, as the article implies, Milligan and Rutledge’s duties while in Iowa are going to be to help with Huckabee’s final push. That is, by definition, devoting time and/or labor toward Huckabee’s campaign, and it will almost certainly be occurring during normal business hours.3
But let’s take it one step further. Assuming Milligan and Rutledge flew commercial to Iowa, the shortest flight that can get a person from Little Rock to Des Moines on a Thursday is a little over five hours. Rutledge and Milligan were in Iowa prior to the Thursday debate (hence the reference in the story to how both had “tickets to the night’s debate”), which started around 7:30pm. Even being ultra conservative in our guesses, this means that they were in Iowa at least an hour prior to the 7:30 debate time, so we’ll call it 6:30 when they were making comments to the reporter. Huckabee’s campaign headquarters is 22 minutes from the Des Moines airport, and we can safely assume at least thirty minutes between arrival at the gate and departure from the terminal in a rental car. So let’s say the plane touched down in Iowa right around 5pm.
This means that Milligan and Rutledge had to leave Little Rock no later than 11:45am on Thursday to get to Iowa, even in our conservative estimate of their time of arrival. But…Thursday was also a normal workday for state offices; even if this somehow didn’t run afoul of state law, why in the world would either of them think it was ok to abandon their elected offices to travel to Iowa and help out with Huckabee’s doomed campaign for three days (Thursday, Friday, Monday)? And, hell, if they stay in Iowa through the end of the night on Monday to see the caucus results, that doesn’t put them back in Arkansas until some time on Tuesday, which, again, is a regular, 8-5 work day.
Even if Milligan and Rutledge flew on a private plane, rather than flying commercial, they almost certainly had to arrive in Iowa no later than 5:30 pm to be making comments to the media at Huck HQ before heading to the debate. There is literally no way they got to Iowa–even on a private plane–by 5:30 without leaving Little Rock prior to 5pm (and closer to 3pm).
Perhaps expectedly, it gets even worse, at least from the taxpayers’ perspective.
When I saw the story on Milligan and Rutledge’s arrival in Iowa, my first thought was, “I guarantee you that Milligan’s Chief of Staff, Jim Harris, is with them.” This is both because Harris is married to Huckabee’s sister and because Harris fancies himself as politically important and would not miss a chance to go to Iowa so he could pretend like he matters at all. (Spoiler: He does not.)
A couple hours later, someone sent me a picture they’d found on social media, showing Harris in Iowa at the debate:
In case you’re wondering, yes, the statute about devoting time to other campaigns applies to non-elected state employees as well. Under that statute, “public servants” includes “public employees,” which is defined as “an individual who is employed by a governmental body.”
If you’re looking for the most interesting wrinkle of all of this, however, it is what can happen if the prosecutor’s office decides to get involved. Ark. Code Ann. 7-1-103, which includes the quoted language above, specifies that “the violation of any provision of this section shall be a Class A misdemeanor.” Moreover, “Any person convicted under the provisions of this section shall thereafter be ineligible to hold any office or employment in any of the departments in this state.”
It’s always a long shot to hope that the prosecutor’s office will go after one of these violations. Yet, if that did happen, this could become very interesting very quickly, since a conviction would remove both from office (and would rid Arkansas of the downside of having Jim Harris in any public employment).
Regardless of the criminal-violation angle, however, it certainly smells like another ethics complaint is cooking.
Which, by my count, would be number 10 or so since taking office.↩
Ark. Code Ann. 7-1-103(a)(2)(A)(i)↩
Here is where I expect the Milligan defenders (all three of them) to say that Milligan is not doing his pro-Huck work during normal business hours. Which is so stupid and illogical, that I don’t think it really needs to be addressed.↩