Gov. Asa Hutchinson curtailed much of his travel around the country and the world in 2018 as he campaigned successfully for re-election within Arkansas, according to disclosure reports released this week.
Hutchinson reported $11,609 in travel costs and reimbursements for official business in 2018, less than a quarter of his travel costs in each of his previous three years in office, according to reports dating back to 2015. Such reimbursements do not include travel expenses the governor paid for out of his own pocket, such as a personal vacation.
Last year was also the first calendar year in which Hutchinson did not report going on any foreign trips. The governor had previously visited China, Germany, England and Mexico on trips paid for by the Arkansas Economic Development Foundation.
An economic development trip to Cuba in 2015 was paid for by the Republican Party of Arkansas.
"It was a campaign year," said Hutchinson's spokesman, J.R. Davis. "He was just here a whole lot more and there were not any trade missions."
Hutchinson reported taking four separate trips to Washington, D.C., in 2018 that were paid for by the Republican Governors Association. He also reported traveling to the nation's capital in November to attend the memorial service for former President George H.W. Bush, also paid for by the Republican Party of Arkansas.
Davis said Hutchinson "fully intends" to increase his travel schedule this year, though no trade missions are yet scheduled.
Susan Hutchinson, the governor's wife, traveled to Alabama and Maryland last year to attend events related to child advocacy and mental health awareness. Her trips, paid for by the events' sponsors, were reported on her husband's disclosure forms.
The Hutchinsons also reported receiving tickets worth $1,500 to attend the 2018 Opus Ball at the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra as a gift from a Bill Jones, as well as an honorary membership to the Pinnacle Country Club worth $2,771.
The governor's official travel and gifts in 2018 were reported on his annual statement of financial interest. Constitutional officers, lawmakers and other state officials were required to submit the same disclosure forms to the secretary of state's office on Thursday. Disclosures must include expenses for food, lodging and travel paid for by "non-governmental" sources, but which relate to their official office.
Other travel reported by state officials included:
• Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin reported $9,955 in travel expenses in 2018.
The lieutenant governor, who also waged a successful re-election campaign last year, traveled to New Orleans for the Great American Seafood Cookoff, and had his flight covered by Gary Sewell of El Dorado.
Griffin also reported traveling to Washington, D.C., for a trip paid for by the Republican National Lawyers Association and the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association to attend meetings.
• Attorney General Leslie Rutledge reported $50,487 in travel expenses in 2018, most of which was paid for by the Republican Attorneys General Association.
Rutledge won re-election as state attorney general in 2018.
Rutledge traveled to Washington, D.C., 16 times in 2018 for business related to the Republican Attorneys General Association, an organization for which she served as chairman for most of 2018.
Her spokesman said Rutledge met with the president and vice president while in Washington, and worked to grow jobs.
An additional six trips to Washington last year were paid for by the Rule of Law Defense Fund. Rutledge also traveled to Sacramento for the Western Attorneys General Conference, and to Hendersonville, Tenn., for a television appearance on Trinity Broadcasting Network's Huckabee, which was paid for by the network.
• Then-Secretary of State Mark Martin, who was ineligible to run for re-election in 2018 because of term limits, reported taking a $5,000 trip to Taiwan in September, paid for by the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Martin was invited to Taiwan by the country's Economic and Cultural Office in Houston, according to Chris Powell, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office.
Powell said that Martin gave a presentation about Arkansas and the state's tourism and agricultural sectors to Taiwanese officials at a "U.S. Business Day."
"It was a trade mission basically," Powell said.
• State Auditor Andrea Lea reported $3,102 worth of travel and three trips in 2018.
The auditor attended conferences in Kansas City and Washington, D.C., paid for by the State Financial Officers Foundation. She also attended a conference in Atlanta paid for by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Lea was re-elected in 2018.
• House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, reported two trips totaling $2,506.
A trip to Denver, to attend a leadership symposium, was paid for by the National Conference of State Legislatures. A trip to Centerville, Mass., for a conference was paid for by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation.
Shepherd, who was sworn is as speaker last June, also reported receiving a framed duck stamp worth $475 from Hutchinson as a gift in November. The speaker also reported receiving Arkansas Razorbacks football tickets worth $260 from a former state lawmaker in October.
• Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, who is now the president pro tempore, reported a single trip costing $752 to Denver in June, to attend a leadership symposium. The trip was paid for by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Hendren was formally sworn in as president pro tempore at the start of the 2019 session in January.
• Hendren's predecessor, then-Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, reported taking three trips last year costing a total of $4,240.
Dismang attended a different leadership symposium in New York City paid for by the National Conference of State Legislatures. He also traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz., to attend a policy conference paid for by the State Governmental Affairs Council and to Nashville for the Senate Presidents Forum.
• Former Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, who resigned from the House last June to take a job at the University of Central Arkansas, did not report taking any trips in 2018.
The former speaker, who is now the director of governmental affairs and external relations at UCA, also did not report any creditors on his disclosure form. Gillam said Thursday that he paid back by the end of last year a $16,000 loan that he received from Rep. Joe Jett, R-Success, in the fall of 2016 to help Gillam's then-financially struggling berry farm.
Last September, Gillam and Jett confirmed to this newspaper that the loan occurred when Gillam was House speaker and before Jett switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in December 2016. Gillam reappointed Jett as chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee in January 2017.
At that time, Gillam filed amendments to his Statement of Financial Interest for 2016 and 2017 to disclose Jett as a creditor to whom at least $5,000 was personally owed.
Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Metro on 02/02/2019
Print Headline: State officials reveal travel costs, donors