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Friday, July 6, 2012

It's official — ethics drive falls short

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2012 at 11:25 AM

As I indicated earlier, the drive for a better ethics law has fallen short. The release:

Little Rock - The Better Ethics Now Committee announced today that the effort to get 62,507 signatures necessary to get the Campaign Finance and Lobbying Act of 2012 on the ballot has fallen short.

Co-chairs Brent Bumpers, Jim Keet and Baker Kurrus offered the following statement:

“Because we began our efforts very late, we knew that gathering the signatures necessary to place the ethics measure on the ballot would be a daunting challenge.

Although we are disappointed in this result, we are gratified and encouraged about the future of ethics reform in Arkansas. We now are certain that meaningful ethics reform is coming, either through direct legislative action or through a future initiated act.

We are especially appreciative of the volunteer efforts that supported this endeavor. Volunteers produced about twice as many signatures as we expected them to be able to obtain in the time allotted. We thank all of the volunteers who donated their time, resources and energy to this effort. It is certain that this type of reform will bear fruit in the future when given the time to succeed.

While this Initiated Act was immensely popular among the masses we were in fact a bit dismayed on occasion by a degree of either apathy or opposition from certain quarters. That was not a factor however in the failure to obtain the needed signatures. The shortfall in the necessary signatures resulted from the lack of performance by the professional canvassing firm which we hired.

The public sentiment expressed during the short period of this campaign shows that ethics reform is not only popular, but ultimately inevitable. Virtually the only criticism of the initiated act was that it did not go far enough, and that it did not apply to more elected officials. The level of public discourse on this issue has been elevated, and we believe ethics reform will and should be an issue in every race this fall and the future as well. We hope that it will be the subject of legislation in the next general session of the legislature. We have learned a great deal from this effort, and we will use what we have learned to press on to reform the legislative and lobbying processes in Arkansas. We are encouraged by the bipartisan nature of our work, and we plan to continue this productive cooperation.

Although the precise timing and final substance of the ethics reforms are not clearly defined now, we believe that the efforts of the last sixty days will be the foundation upon which that change is based. We are certain that the landscape of Arkansas politics will be changed very soon and this issue will be part of that change."

It's not clear yet — and may never be — how short the campaign fell. As Marie O'Connell mentioned earlier, the hope was to get 49,000 from the professional canvassing firm. The volunteer effort got 15,000, at least. The paid effort only had about a month to work after money was raised. It's not clear exactly how many signatures the paid canvassers got. Part of their pay was based on expected performance, which didn't happen. But, Kurrus noted that, in a compressed time frame, it's hard to make allowances when signature gathering is falling behind. He said the canvassing firm worked until the end, and was paying canvassers on July 4, but "yesterday it became very problematic."

Kurrus, who carried petitions himself, said, "The issue is so popular I don't think it can be tamped down." He said one of the first items of consideration at the legislature ought to be the trips that legislators take that are financed by corporate interests. He's disappointed, he said, but "in an odd way, encouraged" by public reaction and all that his group had learned.

Paul Spencer, the Catholic High teacher who founded the effort, distributed this statement:

My dear friends,

It is my sad duty to inform you that Terra Strategies has failed to produce the contracted number of signatures agreed upon by Better Ethics Now. As a result, the Campaign Finance and Lobbying Act of 2012 will not be on the November ballot. However, it should be noted that our core volunteer canvassers of Regnat Populus have met their canvassing goals, bringing in over 15,000 signatures and meeting the minimum requirement in over 20 counties. For this, you should be very proud of yourselves.

As I watched this campaign morph and evolve, oft times not knowing exactly what lay around the next turn, the one constant was you. You, the volunteers, have amazed me with your resourcefulness and hard work and humbled me with your conviction and resolve. I am deeply moved by your dedication in working towards a more representative democracy: one in which the people truly do rule.

Regnat Populus will continue the struggle we've begun-a little bloodied and bruised by the experiences we've shared, but more importantly a great deal wiser. With this wisdom and a redoubled resolve, we will emerge from the crucible; composed of a stronger alloy of solidarity and purpose, determination and longing.

As the committee reconstitutes and begins to plan our new direction, we will call on you again. Although I've only personally met a fraction of our statewide volunteer canvassers, I hold you all in great esteem within my heart.

Paul Spencer
Chairman, Regnat Populus

Here's what another volunteer, David Couch, said about the final count:

I really don’t know. Once Terra told me that they were going to be short they didn’t turn in to me any more petitions to be counted. That would have been all that they collected in the last week or so with the big push for petitions that involved all the paid canvassers for all the initiatives and any petitions collected outside of central Arkansas. We were half way there without those petitions so I think perhaps the best response would be we collected tens of thousands of petitions from all over the state and we exceeded the minimum requirement required by law in over twenty counties. People should know that we were close and we can get this done if we try again.

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