Foundation fund

Arkansas National Guard Foundation breaks fundraising agreement with state senator’s wife

Citing financial reasons, the Arkansas National Guard Foundation has terminated its fundraising advisory agreement with Catherine Johnson, the wife of State Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Ferndale, the executive director of the foundation.

Foundation executive director Damon Cluck said “we couldn’t fund the programs we put in place and his contract indefinitely.”

Catherine Johnson has received $70,000 — $10,000 a month under her fundraising advisory deal with the Arkansas National Guard Foundation since Jan. 1 — and will receive $30,000 in severance pay on August 1 under the terms of the agreement, Cluck said in an interview.

He said Catherine Johnson was paid from income from the foundation’s endowment – the value of which fell from around $1.5million to around $1.3million due to turmoil in the investment markets since January 1 – and that the foundation could not maintain its programs and monthly fees. He said Catherine Johnson was informed on Wednesday evening of the termination of the agreement by the board.

“She’s done a lot of great things for us,” Cluck said. “She helped us mature our organization.”

He said he only met Mark Johnson once.

“We’re not political,” Cluck said.

Mark and Catherine Johnson declined to comment Friday on the termination of his fundraising advisory agreement with the Arkansas National Guard Foundation.

Cluck confirmed the termination of the foundation’s agreement with Catherine Johnson a day after the Legislative Council on Thursday delayed action on Governor Asa Hutchinson’s administration’s request to transfer $5 million of restricted reserve funds by the state to the Arkansas National Guard Foundation.

In addition, the Legislative Council on Thursday delayed action on demands by the Hutchinson administration to transfer $750,000 in state rainy day funds to support World Services for the Blind in Little Rock and to grant to the State Heritage Division the spending authority to allow the Attorney General to donate $250,000 in proceeds of the lawsuit settlement to the Sultana Historical Preservation Society in Marion.

The council’s action came after Mark Johnson told lawmakers that Catherine Johnson is a registered fundraising consultant who advises the three groups on their fundraising, and he filed a disclosure about his conflict of interests. potential interests before the board meeting.

A subcommittee co-chair, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, told lawmakers on Thursday that the three requests for public funds were upheld by a subcommittee on Tuesday because it had come to its attention that a A lawmaker’s spouse had lobbied for the three entities that would receive state funding under those demands.

He said he wanted more information about the nature of the relationship between the spouse and the groups, and that he had not received all of that information and that the subcommittee would review the applications next month. He then clarified that Catherine Johnson is a fundraising consultant and not a lobbyist.

State Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Larry Walther sought board approval for the transfer of $5 million in restricted reserve funds to the state Department of the Army for the Arkansas National Guard Foundation, which provides charitable and educational support to members of the Arkansas National Guard, and their dependents and survivors, as well as to veterans and other charitable organizations that support the Arkansas veteran communities.

Hutchinson sought board approval for a transfer of $750,000 in rainy day funds to the State Department of Commerce’s Arkansas Rehabilitation Services to help World Services for the Blind renovate its campus. which will be used as a group home for the blind.

Walther sought council approval for a new cash credit for the State Heritage Division to disburse $250,000 from the Attorney General’s Office to the Sultana Historical Preservation Society for the Sultana Disaster Museum at Marion.

In a letter dated Thursday to Legislative Council Co-Chair Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldon, Mark Johnson said he would respectfully step aside from the discussion and would not vote or vote “present” on requests to funding from the Arkansas National Guard Foundation, the Sultana Disaster Museum, and World Services for the Blind “to ensure compliance of disclosures of potential conflicts of interest under Senate Rule 24,” which is a rule of ethics.

The Bureau of Legislative Research released the letter on Friday.

Johnson said in a separate letter dated Friday to Dismang that he filed a letter dated September 18, 2020 with Senate Secretary Ann Cornwell disclosing his potential conflict with any action related to Philander Smith College, World Services for the blind and at the Sultana Historical. Preservation Society.

He said his wife’s contract with the Arkansas National Guard Foundation is a 2022 deal and “until Tuesday I didn’t know they had a funding request pending with [the Legislative Council’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Subcommittee]. Following the subcommittee’s action, he says he filed his letter with Rice.

“I am of the view that there is no legitimate reason for the PEER subcommittee to withhold these items, in light of the information listed here,” Johnson said. “Therefore, I respectfully request that these papers be released from any holds based on the information discussed therein and considered for funding by the PEER Sub-Committee on their merits.”

Any entity applying for a state grant should provide the requested information to the relevant legislative committees, but “they should not have their legitimate requests delayed or withheld based on erroneous information,” he wrote in his letter. “I believe this is a correctable error and I respectfully request your cooperation in making such a correction.”

Dismang said Friday he had not had a chance to review Johnson’s letter.

Sharon L. Giovinazzo, president and CEO of World Services for the Blind, said Friday that Catherine Johnson started working for the nonprofit group in January 2019 and was compensated for a total of $349,000. for his services.

“Catherine’s rate is competitive with others I’ve interviewed, especially for the experience she brings to the table,” she said. “It has always been lump sum and it has been paid on our operations, not on what has been collected.”

Giovinazzo said in a written statement that Johnson would “Absolutely NOT!” be paid from the $750,000 in public funds for rainy days sought for World Services for the Blind. She said the group had increased their fundraising significantly with the help of Catherine Johnson.

According to records from the Secretary of State’s office, Catherine Johnson’s agreement with the group’s foundation refers to the reinstatement of the previous monthly consulting fee of $8,500, effective September 1, 2021, until the end of the campaign for the group home.

Sultana Historical Preservation Society board chairman John Fogleman de Marion said Catherine Johnson has worked as a fundraising advisor for the group since May 2022 and is paid $8,500 a month from the funds provided by the Marion Advertising and Promotion Commission.

The group aims to raise $13 million for the Sultana Disaster Museum, including $3 million for an endowment, and has raised $5.3 million so far, said Fogleman, a retired circuit judge.