- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Ethics Commission has opened investigations into the state’s attorney general and treasurer, according to a letter sent Thursday to a Little Rock attorney.

The commission notified liberal blogger Matt Campbell that it would investigate the complaints he filed against Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Treasurer Dennis Milligan for trips they took around Jan. 27 through Feb. 1 to campaign in Iowa for former Gov. Mike Huckabee as part of his now-suspended presidential campaign. The commission does not confirm to the public whether it has received complaints or whether it is investigating.

The letters, which were shared with The Associated Press, said the complaints met the preliminary requirements for the commission to open investigations. Campbell’s complaints cite state law that prohibits public officials from campaigning for another candidate during their offices’ normal business hours.

“The statute is so straight forward that to see such an egregious flouting of that rule kind of hit me the wrong way,” Campbell said. “I knew that Constitutional officers don’t have unpaid leave they can take, so why are they shirking their elected duties to go off and campaign for someone else in Iowa?”

The Ethics Commission earlier this month found Milligan had violated four campaign finance reporting requirements and fined him $400 after a separate complaint from Campbell.

“This is another nuisance complaint filed after Mr. Campbell failed in his last attempt and (is) only meant to distract from the work I was elected to do,” Milligan said through a spokesman Thursday. “I have been and will continue to focus on securing the greatest return available to the hardworking taxpayers of Arkansas.”

Attorney General spokesman Judd Deere said Rutledge received the letter Thursday.

“Attorney General Rutledge is confident Mr. Campbell’s complaint will be dismissed,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “Mr. Campbell’s motives are purely partisan in nature and this is just another ridiculous attempt to bring up an issue that the Ethics Commission has already addressed. For years, both Republicans and Democrats in elected office, from the local county judge to governor, have taken personal leave to exercise their First Amendment right to campaign for a presidential candidate in accordance with Arkansas law.”

Archive news coverage showed the state’s previous attorney general Dustin McDaniel went to Iowa during the 2008 presidential campaign cycle in support of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic nomination. Former Gov. Mike Beebe travelled in 2014 to a rally in Conway during regular business hours in support of both Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross and then U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.

The letters signed by the commission’s director Graham Sloan noted that under the statute, all public officials, employees and appointees are covered in the state’s definition of a public servant to whom the statute applies. It also noted the definition of a public office, for which a candidate would be campaigning under the state’s ethics rules.

“In turn, the term ‘public office’ is defined in (state law) to mean, ‘any office created by or under authority of the laws of the State of Arkansas or of a subdivision thereof that is filled by voters, except a federal office,’” the letter said.


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