When public officials make mistakes, they deserve criticism. When public officials do the right thing, they deserve praise. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel did the right thing recently, when he announced a revised policy on the distribution of class action settlement funds. It’s a move that deserves commendation.
Let’s back up: This summer, McDaniel came under criticism, from this site and other media outlets, for directing funds awarded to the state from class action settlements toward charitable organizations—a practice that, many have noticed, seemed geared more toward McDaniel’s political interests than the public interest. In addition, the practice (which, to be fair, has been exercised by previous holders of the office) is arguably unconstitutional.
This month, McDaniel revised his office policy on settlement funds, effectively ending the practice of directing those funds to charities chosen by the attorney general. McDaniel’s new policy means that, in a matter of months, the state of Arkansas should ultimately have something like an extra $7 million dollars available in its budget.
For a more detailed exploration of this new policy, you can read the latest paper from the Advance Arkansas Institute (PDF). For a look at the original policy memo distributed by the AG’s office on October 11, click here (also PDF).
I can only hope that our legislators will do the right thing and dedicate these new funds not to additional state spending, but toward growth-oriented tax relief for Arkansas taxpayers. Regardless, McDaniel’s adjusting course on how legal settlement funds are handled is welcome news, and he deserves credit for making his office more accountable to the legislature and to the public.
(Cross-posted at our affiliate site, The Arkansas Project.)
I should have said above: without the efforts of state Rep. Jane English, who unsuccessfully tried to push a law through the legislature earlier this year that would have required legislative authorization of settlement fund spending, I don't know that this ever would have happened. For a lengthier description of the previous status quo, see http://www.advancearkansas.org/advance-arkansas-institute/2011/6/10/why-is-our-attorney-general-ignoring-the-law.html below.