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Arkansas Republican state Sens. Mark Johnson and Alan Clark busted in fraudulent per diem scheme

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After three days of testimony and deliberations behind closed doors, the state Senate Ethics Committee determined Monday that Sen. Mark Johnson (R-Ferndale) and Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) violated Senate rules when Johnson signed Clark in for a June 3 Boys State event he did not actually attend so that Clark could collect a per diem fee, plus mileage.

Clark lives in Lonsdale, roughly 40 miles away from the Capitol, and is eligible to claim a $55 per diem rate when he travels to Little Rock to do government business. Lawmakers who live farther than 50 miles away get $159 per day.

Johnson was there at the Capitol Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. to hear the committee’s decision, but Clark was not. Committee members all voted to recommend the same penalties for Johnson and Clark. Those penalties include:

  • A letter of reprimand from the Senate
  • Removal from any chairmanship or vice-chairmanship for the remainder of the 93rd General Assembly
  • Ineligibility for per diem payments or mileage reimbursements for the remainder of the 93rd General Assembly
  • Ineligibility to serve on Boys State, Girls State or the Senate Ethics Committee ever again
Brian Chilson
State Sen. Mark Johnson (R-Ferndale) is set to be penalized by his peers for signing fellow Sen. Alan Clark in to a Boys State meeting so Clark could collect per diem and mileage expenses.

The Senate Ethics Committee will prepare a report about the hearing and their recommendations for the full Senate within 20 days, and the full Senate will vote on any actions before they become official. This is an unusual situation, and it’s unclear if the Senate will accept these exact penalties, come up with their own or go a different direction entirely. Senate rules allow substitute recommendations.

Senate President pro tempore Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) filed the ethics complaints on Clark and Johnson on June 15, and the Senate Ethics Committee was required by their rules to meet and consider the complaints within 10 days.

The Senate committee members who met Wednesday, Thursday and Monday include Republicans Chairman Kim Hammer of Benton, David Wallace of Leachville, Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro, Missy Irvin of Mountain View and Mat Pitsch of Fort Smith, and Democrats Clarke Tucker of Little Rock and Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff. Democrat Joyce Elliott is also on the committee but did not attend the three days of meetings or vote on the recommendations. Wallace was not originally on the committee, but stepped in as a substitute for Johnson since it was Johnson who was accused of the wrongdoing and therefore couldn’t fulfill the role of deliberating committee member.

Brian Chilson
Sen. Alan Clark (middle) was not in attendance Monday when Ethics Committee members recommended his penalties. He’s pictured here with Sen. Mark Johnson at left and Sen. Jimmy Hickey, who filed the ethics complaint against him.

Flowers offered substitute motions for both Johnson and Clark to add that they be stripped of their seniority in the Senate. Both times her motion died for lack of a second.

Should the full Senate go along with committee recommendations, Johnson and Clark will be virtually nonentities for the remainder of this session, which carries on until new members of the 94th General Assembly are sworn in sometime in January 2023. While the regular session for the 93rd General Assembly is over, a number of committees still meet at the Capitol regularly, and Governor Hutchinson has signaled his intention to call a special session to consider tax breaks and a teacher pay hike.

Clark is chair of the Child Maltreatment Investigations Oversight Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, vice-chair of Arkansas Legislative Council Review and co-chair of the Arkansas Legislative Council Occupational Licensing Review Subcommittee. He would lose those leadership positions.

Johnson is vice chair of the Joint Budget Committee-Claims, Arkansas Legislative Council’s Charitable, Penal and Correctional Institutions, and the Joint Energy Committee. He would lose those leadership positions.

Of course, defrauding taxpayers by claiming reimbursements to which you are not entitled seems like it could be a violation of not just Senate rules, but of the law.

Another consideration: a few candidates were forced out of races or deemed ineligible to take office in Arkansas this year because a judge ruled old hot check charges count as disqualifying “infamous crimes”. The accusations against Clark and Johnson seem just as serious, if not more so.

The post Arkansas Republican state Sens. Mark Johnson and Alan Clark busted in fraudulent per diem scheme appeared first on Arkansas Times.