Saturday, August 27, 2016

Singing along with a legislative caucus. Is it in tune with ethics law?

Posted By on Sat, Aug 27, 2016 at 8:31 AM


An invitation to some karaoke by the House Republican Caucus reached my desk. Contributions are being sought ($50) to the caucus. Food and drink will be available, but participants must pay for their own. Is this a handy way to put lobbyists with legislators in a way safely outside the reach of the cheesecloth ethics amendment that was supposed to end lobbyist/legislator wining and dining, but didn't?

I did some inquiring at the state Ethics Commission. Not, mind you, about this specific event. Here's what Graham Sloan, director of the commission, had to say about my general inquiry.

If a legislative caucus committee is receiving contributions in order to make contributions to candidates, BQCs/LQCs, [ballot question committees] political parties, and/or PACs, it will trigger PAC registration and reporting. There’s a contribution limit of $5,000 per person in a calendar year applicable to PACs. I think Act 1280 (Amendment 94) might come into play if a lobbyist is giving money to a legislative caucus committee. Generally speaking, Act 1280 prohibits a member of the General Assembly from receiving anything of value from a lobbyist, somebody who employs or contracts a lobbyist, or someone acting on behalf of a lobbyist. By definition, a legislative caucus committee is a group that consists of members of the General Assembly.
So, if the House Republican Caucus is registered as a PAC, it can accept corporate/lobbyist/and other contributions. But it must file a report of its contributions. The contributions are subject to limits. It may spend the money on candidates and ballot questions. But, if it is not a registered PAC, it might be running afoul of the supposed rule against gifts to legislators by lobbyists and people who employ them. 

I checked the most recent secretary of state listing of registered PACs and don't see a  House Republican Caucus, though perhaps there's a nomenclature difference that explains otherwise. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam hasn't responded to a question I sent him. Perhaps somebody will want to get some clarification before the karaoke machine warms up.

I'd suggest someone sing "Almost Persuaded." You know "last night in a barroom...met a guy with a drink in his hand .... temptation was flowing like wine .... we danced and he whispered I need you ...."

I think this particular modest event arose with pure intentions to put together a legal mix-and-mingle. Far worse is happening as lobbyists put together more clandestine fund-raisers powered by their major corporate clients for select legislators and, particularly, the PACs that are now the mother's milk of Arkansas legislative politics since direct corporate checks to candidates were prohibited.

Moral: Water will find an outlet. So will cash. 

There are many legislative caucuses so the question here is not singular. A few of them are registered as PACs as you'll see if you scan through the list I've linked.

Update: Speaker Gillam refers my question on the posture of the caucus in this event — PAC or not — to Rep. Mathew Pitsch, who is said to be in charge. 

Update II: Pitsch says the caucus does have a registered PAC and it will be used for contributions. I will supply the name when I have it. 

Update III: It is the House Leadership PAC

PS: I know I'm persnickety, but I hope legislators don't plan to care off any money from PAC contributions to pay for stuff for themselves.

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