Friday, January 6, 2012

Jane English calls for campaign spending transparency

Posted By on Fri, Jan 6, 2012 at 8:46 AM

Rep. Jane English of North Little Rock, a Republican who's seeking a state Senate seat next year, has issued a heart-warming campaign news release. She's inspired to action by the giant loophole that has been carved out of Arkansas ethics laws by, among others, the Little Rock and Arkansas chambers of commerce and campaign consultants like the Markham Group and Craig Douglass.

It has become pattern and practice for these behind-the-scenes manipulators of campaigns on ballot issues to hide the specifics of campaign spending by laundering their money through payments to consultants. Though political candidates — and the law — suggest that full disclosure of expenditures is intended by state law, voters aren't getting any meaningful disclosure on ballot issue campaigns, except for the huge checks written to the likes of the Markham Group (Little Rock sales tax campaign, for example) and Craig Douglass (highway tax). Most of the spending likely would be unremarkable, if disclosed. But you never know when a campaign might be a touch embarrassed by how and where it spends street money to get out the vote.

I filed an ethics complaint seeking greater disclosure and the Ethics Commission staff sided with me, but the commission itself decided — apologetically — that the precise language of the law, through drafting oversight, didn't demand the disclosure they'd like to see. The acting chairman and the staff director said they hoped to see the law change.

English has responded to the call (can I get any seconds?):

State Senate candidate and District 42 State Representative Jane English (R-North Little Rock) today released the following statement announcing her plans to work with the State Ethics Commission and introduce new legislation to amend and strengthen current law to promote greater transparency in political campaign expenditures:

"In light of last month's ruling over the public disclosure of expenditures by a ballot issue committee, comments by members of the Ethics Commission and comments from advocates involved in the hearing, it is clear to me that the Arkansas General Assembly needs to strengthen the current law to bring greater transparency to political expenditures in order to instill greater confidence among Arkansas voters in the political process.

"I have been in contact with members of the commission's staff about the need to bring greater transparency to expenditures by ballot issue committees and political candidates. I look forward to working with the commission to identify how we can strengthen the law and introducing improved ethics legislation as a member of the Arkansas Senate in the next General Assembly."

Once, some years ago, then-state Sen. Doyle Webb, a Republican from Benton, made a lonely run at toughening state ethics laws, to my cheers. Alas, poor Doyle .... Anyway, I've written for years that Republicans in a Democrat-dominated state could hardly lose public favor by branding themselves as the party of ethics and open government. Let's forget Bryant for a minute and welcome Rep. English to that cause. It should be easy, but when you're fighting the accumulated might of the power brokers that fund the chambers of commerce, it is not.

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