This morning, The Clarion Ledger's Geoff Pender wrote a few (1) damning reports (2) about state legislators using taxpayer dollars for trips with lobbyists.
According to Pender, not only did lobbyists cover the cost of much of a trip to Destin, these legislators were then reimbursed by the state for travel, food, etc, essentially double dipping on the taxpayer dollar.
The trip's purpose was to meet with a group pushing for the ability of loan sharks to charge up to 99% on "small" loans. Obviously driving up heinous debt on sometimes the most desperate people.
Now this, at its face, is appalling. But what really sticks out is how legislators like Bubba Carpenter (R-Burnsville), Tracy Arnold (R-Booneville) and Ray Rogers (R-Pearl) responded when they were asked about the trip.
Pender on Rep. Bubba Carpenter (R-Burnsville):
|Rep. Bubba Carpenter (R - Burnsville)|
...when first contacted, on his way back from the same MCFA event in Destin this year, said: “No, sir, I did not. I didn’t file anything on my state report. (Lobbyist) Buddy Medlin paid for that. I can’t turn that in — (the House Management Committee) wouldn’t have approved it. You’ve got some wires crossed with whatever you’re looking at. … Something’s not geehawing. I would have to be approved by Management, and this is a private convention.”...
But then, after checking his expense records, Carpenter said he had been pre-approved by the Management Committee, and the $652.70 he was reimbursed by taxpayers for the travel was for mileage, meals and other out-of-pocket expenses. He said neither the association nor lobbyists provided for all meals at the convention.
Pender on Ray Rogers (R-Pearl):
|Rep. Ray Rogers (R- Pearl)|
...at first said he recalled only filing mileage and that “where lobbyists pay for motel and so forth, the thing they don’t pay for is mileage.”
Pender on Tracy Arnold (R-Booneville):
“I certainly did not ask for meals,” Rogers said. “Mine better not show meal expenses.”
Records show Rogers was reimbursed $547.04, including $138 for meals. Later, Rogers said: “Well, I apologize. Records show I asked for mileage and meals that weren’t covered. … We don’t double up. We don’t pay anything that the lobbyists cover. No, they don’t cover all meals.”
|Rep. Tracy Arnold (R - Booneville)|
...had a similar first response: “You’re saying the state paid? I need to check that out because it was my understanding that the Mississippi Consumer Finance Association paid for everything on that trip … That’s the first one of those that I’ve been on … the first time I’ve went to one where someone was supposed to be totin’ and paying it all.” He also said he’s had problems with an assistant at the Capitol who files his expenses.
Arnold state-expensed $654.54 for the trip, including $170 for meals. After checking records, he, too, noted the travel was pre-approved by House Management and directed further questions to House Management Committee Chairman Greg Snowden.
But a 23% increase in travel over the last year sounds less like a mistake, and more like uninhibited corruption (by the way, Speaker Gunn refused to comment for these stories).
So was it complete incompetence or good ol' corruption?
Why not both?