Thursday, October 4, 2012

Regnat Populus lives, plans 2014 ethics law drive

Posted By on Thu, Oct 4, 2012 at 11:12 AM

REMEMBER THAT NAME: Regnat Populus, illustrated here by screen shot of its old website, is working again on ethics, pointing toward 2014.
  • REMEMBER THAT NAME: Regnat Populus, illustrated here by screen shot of its old website, is working again on ethics, pointing toward 2014.
Good news today from Paul Spencer, the Catholic High teacher who led the truncated petition drive for a state ethics law. Regnat Populus is back. It has mailed a new ballot proposal to the attorney general's office for approval. It's identical to the earlier petition, but adds state constitutional officers to the measure, which had applied only to state legislators. (CORRECTION: I wrote originally in error that the measure covered judges.)

UPDATE: Here's the latest proposal.

The measure is simple, worthy and needed.

* It bans corporate and union contributions to political campaigns of those covered.
* It ends gifts by lobbyists to these public officials. The so-called Walmart rule, in honor of that company's ban on its employees taking gifts from vendors.
* It imposes a two-year waiting period before covered politicians can become a lobbyist after leaving office.

Spencer and David Couch, a lawyer who was active in the effort earlier this year, will co-chair the drive. A new organization and website are in the works.

Spencer said he hopes the attorney general can complete certification of the measure — it adds only about two sentences of new information — in time for a token showing of canvassers at the November general election polls. But that will just be symbolic. The drive will need the same 62,507 signatures to get on the 2014 ballot.

"We do have the luxury of time," Spencer said. "And we have that taste of defeat still in our mouth. We went in last time with no experience, no time and now money. Now we have a lot of time and a lot of experience." Regnat Populus finished its campaign with $385. But a supportive committee, Better Ethics Now, which formed to raise bipartisan support for a paid canvassing drive, ended with money in the bank, almost $40,000 according to its last report. Spencer said it would be presumptuous for him to say what it might or might not do.

Spencer's group got a late start and began gathering petitions around Memorial Day. Better Ethics Now formed to help the struggling petition drive, but it folded its effort in early July before the end of the canvassing period because of the failure of a paid canvassing firm to deliver on promises. Nobody has ever figured where the group ended up, but Spencer said he knew the effort by his mostly volunteer committee had a much higher rate of "good" signatures than many of the paid drives held in Arkansas this year.

Spencer said he also was working separately with public interest groups on other potential measures addressing the fallout from Citizens United.

Democrats generally favored this measure last time (Dustin McDaniel, initially cool, finally came on board.) Several Republicans, who depend on lobbyist handouts, were openly antagonistic. Ask your local candidates where they stand. Maybe Americans for Prosperity's Teresa Oelke, whose Koch patrons throw all kinds of gatherings for legislators at their front groups, has some mail money handy. Or ask lobbyist-in-the-making Sen. Gilbert Baker, who is currently waving a flag for the forces of morality in Arkansas. He didn't like this idea much either, particularly the part that could have delayed a lobbying career.

Good government? Accountability? Who's for it?

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