Money, like water, always finds an outlet. Rulings like Citizens United have aided the flow of unaccountable money into political races, but there are other outlets. One is the rise of largely unaccountable 501c4 nonprofit organizations, that enjoy favored tax status even as they are able to spend some money in direct political activities (unlike rules that apply to 501c3 organizations.)
State officials are starting to take notice. Talking Points Memo writes here about a conference call that included people from 10 states about the growing influence of independent spending by such groups. Arkansas has felt the money, too, but didn't apparently have a representative in this talk.
Ironically enough, a new stab at "ethics" in Arkansas is seen by at least one political operator I know as likely to be counterproductive thanks to the 501c4s. He refers to the legislatively proposed constitutional amendment that allows for legislative pay raises, an easing of term limits, legalized junkets and legislative banquets and also a small change in an ethics rule or two.
One new ethics rule would ban direct corporate contributions to political candidates. Corporations still could contribute to PACs of all sorts. Isn't this limitation good? Well, a little bit good. Corporate spending on legislative races is relatively small, though $2,000 can be a lot of money for a state House candidate. It's far more important in statewide races. Think of multi-million-dollar races for governor and sometimes offices like attorney general.
If the corporate money is cut off, it will go somewhere. My friend bets, if the ethics amendment passes, it will supercharge movement of corporate money to the shadowy 501c4 organizations. I actually don't think we're going to have to wait long for such a catalyst to see this money play an even uglier role in state politics. If it doesn't show up in bundles for state Supreme Court races in the future, count me surprised.
What to do? Some states have moved to at least require reporting of politically related expenditures by independent groups. Others are pressing for federal investigations to see whether these "social welfare" groups are stretching tax law beyond its limit in political spending.
Regnat Populus, the grassroots group that succeeded in putting its ethics initiative in a legislatively proposed constitutional amendment heading to the ballot in 2014, has circulated a statement touting its achievement and defending some of the items grafted onto that amendment to achieve legislative approval, particularly an extension of term limits and a mechanism to raise legislative pay.
There's news in the message of an expected lawsuit over efforts by the business lobby to curtail the ability of Arkansas voters to petition their government:
The now infamous SB 821, introduced by Sen. Ingram of West Memphis, was designed by the Southland/Oaklawn duopoly and the gas lobby to stymie the Ballot Initiative process itself because of Initiated Acts that were attempted in 2012 which would have presented competition/and or cut into profits for their respective businesses. SB 821 imposes restrictions on paid canvassers, makes rules that make it more difficult to petition and shortens the time allowed to petition. We believe SB 821 will be shown to be unconstitutional and are filing suit to fight this measure which infringes upon Arkansas citizens’ ability to petition through this cherished Citizen Initiated process.
Sadly, the legislature has also referred a constitutional amendment on petitions that would make it harder to cure petition drives that fall short at the initial deadline. It could hamper the process even if a lawsuit succeeds in striking the law.
On other subjects:
I take exception to Regnat Populus' benign view of the provision added by the Senate to continue to allow lobby-paid junkets. RP believes the provision allowing travel to conferences means only transportation costs, not food, lodging or other events (say golf tournaments) scheduled as part of the conferences. The amendment doesn't specify this definition of travel. "Travel" by any standard of government reimbursement routinely includes food, lodging, registration fees and other incidentals. We won't know until a court decides. I expect an early test. Legislators won't be traveling if they have to pay for hotels, meals and drinks. And they want to travel.
I also think Regnat Populus is naive in thinking its decision to allow free wining and dining of official groups can't and won't be abused. To continue to allow fancy swillathons for the whole legislature is pernicious enough. But the amendment allows banqueting for an event to which a "specific governmental body" is invited. What is a "governmental body?" The amendment definition [and it's more important than any previous law or rule] includes an "office" or "other establishment" of the "legislative branch." Got a truck? I see a loophole big enough for any lobbyist or legislator to drive an officeholder in the legislature through. Or the Payday Lenders Caucus, at least.
But for now celebrate some elements in the amendment that represent a step forward. The Regnat Populus message follows:
I felt the tradeoffwas no bargain for the public. Legislators would have to give up corporate contributions to individual campaigns (though not to PACs). Lobbyists would be restricted in gifts to legislators, whether it be George Strait tickets or lunches at Doe's.
But ... the amendment provides constitutional protection for lobby wining and dining, so long as clearly identifiable groups are invited to the hogslops. The whole House. The whole Senate. All of a critical committee. And who knows what other identifiable groups could be identified — the Black Caucus, the Republican Caucus, the Shale Caucus, the God Caucus? The provision inserted to protect legislators' mealtime pleasure (not a feature of the Regnat Populus initiative) guarantees continuation of the nightly special interest feeds that are a standard feature of a legislative session. General public not invited.
The amendment also provides constitutional protection of travel junkets provided by lobbyists or groups affiliated with lobbyists, so long as a formal invite to the state is issued. This is another loophole begging for a highballing wide load to barrel through.
Also: The amendment sets up a commission (with majority of seats controlled by the legislature) to vote pay raises for legislators, judges and statewide elected officials. This provides all of the desired pay raises with none of the political guilt that comes from the legislature having to set its own pay.
Also: The amendment significantly waters down term limits, giving a legislator the ability to serve 16 years in a single chamber. Time enough to become very powerful.
In a session where constitutional amendments have had rough sledding — even the chamber of commerce lost a tort reform amendment drive — this one has met wide approval. The pay raise and term limit dilution have plenty to do with it. Few public criticisms have been registered.
But Scott Trotter, a Little Rock lawyer who worked with Common Cause when the state approved an ethics initiative decades ago, did have objections last week
At first, it appeared it was too late in the process to address any of Trotter's concerns. But Sabin went to work on it.
There's now an amended proposal here.
The Senate committee will consider the amended version next week. That's always perilous. Some of the sleazier lobbyists have really been raising hell about even the modest limitations this proposal would put on their routines. They could derail the measure yet.
Trotter, having seen the revision, has given sponsors a statement that says in part:
“The amendments result in substantial improvement to HJR 1009 that include (a) enhanced restrictions on gifts from lobbyists to public officials, (b) the potential for adoption of needed adjustments to the salaries of state officials and judges through a measured process open to the public, and (c) the revision and inclusion of definitions and other terms that clarify and strengthen the key provisions of HJR 1009.
Significantly, I'd note, the changes don't address a problem Trotter cited. The amendment removes a constitutional provision on per diem and expenses from the Constitution and leaves these matters to the legislature. The legislature has a rich history of abusing per diem and expenses as a means of salary supplement. Why not turn per diem over to the pay commission, too, Trotter had asked? Why not indeed?
The revisal tightens some definitions on lobbying to cover all bases of sources of gifts. It adds some language to encourage transparency in the salary commission's actions, specifically FOI application. It would limit terms of the pay commission to two terms.
I had a long chat with Warwick, a former colleague and friend, about the effort Saturday. He's had the frustrating experience of being banged from many different directions. I've never doubted his good intentions or those of the others working on the measure, including backers of Regnat Populus. It is true the amendment makes some small ethical steps forward. Trotter's suggestions have produced technical improvements.
I'm trying hard not to be reflexively negative. But it is only fact that the amendment remains a proposal that eases term limits, provides a political escape route for legislative pay raises and provides constitutional protection for lobby-paid legislative banqueting and travel junkets. The givebacks, particularly on term limits, may make it harder to pass and thus again kill some modest ethics advancements.
Lobbyists are said to be unhappy about the proposal. That's definitely a point in its favor.
But there's this:
You know how all the Republicans in favor of Medicaid expansion are telling Democrats and liberal columnists to shut up and stop saying they support the "private option" plan? How their support is a disincentive to holdout Republicans?
I feel the same way about hearing that legislators support something called an "ethics" amendment.
The fix is in. When the deeply split Arkansas House passes something 71-12, you know something is amiss.
This would be the proposed constitutional amendment to open the door to a legislative pay raise, enshrine expenses-paid junketing and lobbyist-financed dining in the Arkansas Constitution, exempt current legislators who don't run again from a revolving-door lobbyist rule and, oh yeah, do a little something or other about ethics.
They call it ethics reform. It pretty well craps on the citizen-initiated ethics reform statute passed a couple of decades ago, something one of the architects of that law told legislative sponsors in a detailed memo this week. They instantly disregarded the input. Too late to make good law.
In honor of this bait-and-switch, I give you my column this week early on the jump. With the payday lending blood-suckers' friend, Sen. Jon Woods, as sponsor, it'll be excreted by the Senate swiftly. Will the chamber of commerce provide some money to pass this Trojan horse when it hits the 2014 ballot? Rent-to-own is their motto, so I'd say so. I guess I'll be bedding down with a few principled teabaggers and the term limits lobby on this one. Hell, I'd take Nate Bell's symbolic gun nuttery amendment over something like this, which does actual ill.
The line is open. Finishing up:
* IN THE OIL SPILL ZONE: Some young activists from the Tar Sands Blockade, a group that opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, is ranging all over the Mayflower oil spill zone to document the mess left by the Exxon Pegasus pipeline rupture that spewed Canadian tar sands on a Mayflower neighborhood and significant amounts of nearby wetland. The group has corrected earlier reports about movement of spilled oil to a wetland area, but the videos show clearly enough that the sticky residue is turning up in all kinds of places. Not pretty. Still no word if Faulkner County officials ever plan to retake control of public matters from the giant international oil company that has run the show to date. (This, by the way, is chump change stuff from the company that gave you the Valdez disaster. A few million dollars worth of headache in backwoods, energy company-loving Faulkner County is peanuts to them; they have no reason to be any less condescending and controlling than they have and plan to be.)Interesting story in the Jonesboro Sun about an ethics complaint filed by a Jonesboro resident against Sen. Paul Bookout (Is he still in the Senate? You could hardly tell it.)
Bookout was unopposed for re-election. Nonetheless, he raised more than $80,000 and spent more than $50,000, a whopping $29,000 of it in unitemized "entertainment" expenses. Fun fellow. He says he followed the law. He didn't provide any details on that entertainment to the inquiring Sun reporter, however.
The complaint pends. Surely to goodness the state Ethics Commission will, in term, issue a stern cautionary message and a $100 fine.
This is but another good example of the utter emptiness of state ethics laws.
1) They are not very tough to begin with.
2) The legislature controls the budget of the agency that enforces the law.
3) The agency that enforces the law has a tiny staff.
4) Ethics laws are only enforced in the breach, in response to complaints. There's no systematic review of campaign filings for gaping questions such as this one.
5) Lobbyists and greedy legislators have wormed around the rules and law in such a way as to make a mockery of the idea of clean government. Group events, ticketed events, splitting, stacking, simple failure to report. All these things are the lingo of a system that not only doesn't discourage corruption, it eoncourages creative corruption. The ethics law is meaningful only for the honest and careful. Diogenes would need a pretty big effin' lantern to find many of those under the Capitol dome.
Thus it is that an absolutely well-meaning effort to improve things — the proposed constitutional amendment I wrote about yesterday — already has lobbyists laughing up their sleeves. Enshrining free banquets and junkets in the Constitution, beyond reach of statute or neutered ethics regulators is ethics reform? A pay raise and longer time in office is ethics reform?
Only in Arkansas.
A key sponsor is former colleague and reliably progressive Hillcrest Democratic Rep. Warwick Sabin. An advocate of the cause is Paul Spencer, who's labored long and hard for the grassroots Regnant Populus group to initiatie ethics reform.
I credit them with the best of intentions. The measure contains some advancements.
* It bans corporate contributions to political campaigns. It is unclear, however, if it bans the slimy practice perfected by Republicans in 2012 by which unopposed legislators sitting on fat campaign accounts spread the money around to other candidates. It's wrong. It's an end-run around campaign limits because special interests can load up candidates with money they'll in turn pass on to candidates who've already received maximum contributions from the same special interests.
* It forces public officials to wait two years, rather than one, to become a paid lobbyist after working for lobby interests as a legislator in hopes of future work. But ... The current batch of legislators is not covered by this new rule unless they are elected again in 2014. So, big whoop. Current legislators can continue to head to the lobby after a year off.
* It supposedly bans gifts by lobbyists to lawmakers. But, a last-minute addition to the measure created a loophole big enough to drive a corporate jet and a Rolls Royce through, along with an addition to the amendment from existing law that is widely abused.
FIRST: If I'm reading the various amendments correctly, lawmakers still may partake of "food or drink available at a planned activity to which a specific governmental body or identifiable group of public servants is invited." This was NOT part of the Regnat Populus proposal.
Let us say Stephens Inc. invites the Republican members of the Insurance and Commerce Committee to dinner in the Capital Hotel wine cellar. This "identifiable" group of legislators may freely partake, right?
Let us say the Electric Co-op, Entergy, some big insurance companies and other corporate interests pay so that members of the legislature may attend a big dinner honoring the House speaker, with lobbyists on hand to kiss the right rings. Wouldn't they still be able to freely partake?
There are so many ways to slice and dice "identifiable groups" that I don't see a way in the world the amendment would prevent a lobbyist from hosting, say, those State Agencies members still undecided on the tort reform amendments from convening in the backroom of Doe's for martinis, steaks and cabernet.
It would give constitutional protection to hog slopping.
* But this isn't even the worst exception thrown into this amendment Get a load of this 11th-hour exception, pushed into the amendment by a Republican leader:
(vi) Payments by regional or national organizations for travel to regional or national conferences at which the State of Arkansas is requested to be represented by a person or persons elected to an office under subsection (a) of this section;
Free junkets to Turkey? Keep them coming. All's needed is a formal invitation for the state to send a representative. You may be sure special interests have some letterhead stationery for the invites. The proper legislative officials will know which individual members would be best able to represent the state in New York, San Francisco, Paris or wherever.
Once more: If a conference is important to the state, the state should pay to send someone to attend, not grovel for handouts.
Ethics amendment? I call it the Junket Amendment. Woefully lacking, too, is any protections that would assure the hog slopping and junketing get fully reported to the public.
The continuation of hog slopping is not the real reason that parasitic legislators like Sen. Jon Woods jumped on this bandwagon. The bigger reasons are much more important:
1) The amendment provides the tools for pay raises for legislators outside the political arena. It would turn public official pay raises over to a citizens commission. They are fully expected to look at the low level of official pay and readily recommend higher pay for these hard-working public servants (many of them not otherwise employed). A majority of the members of this commission will be appointed by leaders of the legislature. Unlike the lobbying provision, put off effectively for two years, this baby will be put into motion 45 days after adoption. Pay raises will be self-executing. The legislature need not vote on them and give opponents campaign fodder.
2) Term limits. With an arcane exception related to decennial redistricting, members are currently limited to six years of service in the House and eight in the Senate. This amendment would give legislators a 16-year term limit, however they'd like to use it. Can you say potentate? A legislator can commit to a full 16-year run in either the House or Senate, by which time they'd be modern-day versions of the long-serving dinosaurs of the pre-term limits days like Knox Nelson and Max Howell. I opposed term limits. I still oppose term limits. But this is a way to give the new majority Republicans an effective end-run around term limits without seeming to do so. Of course the new limits apply to currently serving members, not just those elected in 2014 and beyond, as with the lobbying restriction. Pick your worst nightmare for a 16-year run in the House or Senate, say a Nate Bell or Bryan King. Imagine what such bullies could do after accruing that sort of tenure.
Bottom line: Turns out serving in the legislature is pretty sweet when you have power. What's not to like about a proposal that allows you to serve longer, make more money at it and keep the junkets and special interest dinners coming? Particularly when you can tell the voters it's all in the name of "Ethics Reform."
Remind me again what's being traded off for this.
I hate dropping any rain on the diligent work by good people on a tough subject. I favor higher pay for legislators and an end to term limits. But I don't think they've traded off enough in this measure to earn these significant benefits.
I wrote yesterday about the effort backed by Arkansas's duopoly casinos at Southland and Oaklawn, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and others to cripple the referendum process by, among others, severely limiting signature gathering by paid canvassers.
Paul Spencer has written an e-mail to supporters of Regnat Populus about the group's objections to the legislation. His group has been working on a petition to improve the state ethics law. The vested interests hate that, too.
His detailed objections follow on the jump.
They are not the only issues that contribute to a potential legal challenge of this law if it passes the House as it has the Senate. The Arkansas Constitution raises questions about placing new hurdles on the referendum process as well.
Details aside, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the casinos, their high-dollar attorneys and the business lobby generally don't want the people to have ready access to the ballot to change their laws.
UPDATE: An opponent of the bill tells me it was pulled down after being introduced in House committee this morning. Some "changes" are contemplated.
SIDE NOTE: David Couch, a lawyer who's worked on initiative campaigns, testified against the bill today. He has noted, among others, that the review process worked. No flawed petitions reached the ballot. And he also noted, significantly, that the law is aimed at statewide ballot measures, but wouldn't affect, for example, the Walton-financed campaign that ultimately legalized package alcohol sales in Benton County. Couch said some of the same paid canvassers worked on that campaign that worked on some statewide petition campaigns. Laws with stiff penalties already exist to punish fraud in the petition process, he said.
He wrote about SB 797, which is a tax increase on cell phone users to pay for improvements in rural broadband service and some 911 system improvements. The tax is a charge up to 40 cents a month on all cell phone users to subsidize rural telephone companies. It could raise $20 million a year.
Could be a good project. It's still a tax increase — even on the poorest of the poor and on tens of thousands who'll see no benefit from it. But it passed with virtually no disssent in both houses in a legislature where the Republican majority has vowed not to increase taxes. Sen. Michael Lamoureux of Russellville, the Republican leader in the Senate and the body's president pro tem, pushed hard for the legislation.
Might a contributing factor be that Lamoureux has done private legal work for rural telephone companies that will benefit from this legislation?
Lamoureux was his customarily acommodating self in answering questions about his relationship to beneficiaries of the legislation that he worked to pass.
He confirmed that he'd done some private work for a rural phone company in his district and took on representing some others in a Public Service Commission case related to federal rules that had harmed soe school broadband projects in his district. He filed no notice with the Senate on that representation, but said he didn't think it was required.
I did meet with our general counsel Steve Cook and seek guidance on how to deal with any legislation that affected any of my clients and followed that.
For example, I also represent defendants in criminal cases but I still vote on bills regarding crime and punishment issues.
I said the analogy didn't seem particularly apt in that Lamoureux surely wouldn't legislate a financial payment or a reduced sentence for a criminal defendant. He responded:
I didn't mean it as perfect comparison. I often oppose increased punishments like I did today or like last session on act 570.
I think your questions are fair. I have spoken openly about my representing some of these guys. Some documents I have filed [at the PSC] are publicly posted.
These issues arise frequently if you are a small solo practice. Much of what we do impacts clients.
True enough. And it's an age-old legislative concern, up to and including the current governor, who got rich in private law practice while a senator. The suspicion has always been that corporate political players can put legislators on retainers or otherwise funnel lucrative work in ways not readily apparent to the public at large, but immensely influential in other ways.
Lamoureux says his initial work, later broadened to other companies, was for P.T Sanders, a friend for 15 years, whose family owns Arkwest in Danville. "He was a constituent prior to redistricting, He has had me do some legal work for him for years, There was an issue that was common to the other companies so they asked me to help as well since I was handling for PT."
I jump to no conclusions except the usual one: Transparency is a great cure for ill appearances. Routine disclosure by lawyer legislators of clients with pending legislative interests would be a public confidence builder. Until that sunshiny day, newspapers will just have to depend on the kindness of friends to learn about such things.
We'd reported earlier that lawyer Scott Troutt had filed a complaint over Hutchison's report of use of campaign money for living expenses. Candidates are allowed by law to recoup money up to the amount of personal income lost from time off work. Hutchison said he took off from a $500-a-week job on his brother-in-law's farm to campaign.
The Ethics Commission apparently found that Hutchison ran afoul of the law that law prohibits use of campaign money for personal expenses. The statute defines personal expenses as including "Morgage, Rent and Utility Payments — This includes any payments with respect to a personal residence of the candidate of his or her family..." Hutchison paid rent for use of his mother's house and for her utility bills. Hutchison was given an offer to settle the case, but declined it and asked for a public hearing. It's set for a meeting of the Ethics Commisson tomorrow morning.
This letter lays out the allegation against Hutchison.
Paul Spencer, head of the committee, says a filed bill is not a passed bill. Canvassing will proceed. Call the roll on signatories.
UPDATE: The legislative effort is going to be a constitutional amendment. It was filed in shell form today by Rep. Warwick Sabin.
He promises more information later, but says there's emerging bipartisan legislative consensus in support of the Regnat Populus measure, in combination with changes in the existing term limits law and putting legislative pay in the hands of a citizens commission. The last would provide a way to pay increases on which the legislature itself didn't have to vote.
Republicans such as Sen. Jon Woods, also a sponsor of the amendment, are, in other words, supportive of better ethics if they can have higher pay and stay in office longer. The pay commission will come in separate legislation Woods plans. Term limits light would give this bunch 16 years or so total, where the limit is now six years in the House and eight in the Senate (with vagaries of reapportionment allowing some senators a few more years depending on the luck of the draw). A having-it-both-ways kind of measure. Stick around long enough to accrue all the power and all the perks, from pay and retirement to solid gold health insurance, while still claiming you support term limits.
As a matter of principle, I've always opposed term limits and supported higher pay for public service. As a matter of politics ....
Between abortion and guns and defeating health care for working poor, the legislature hasn't had much time to devote to government ethics. Despite loud talk about good government from the new Republican majority, little has emerged to demonstrate a commitment to that.
So, after some talk that ethics legislation might actually emerge from the legislature, the Regnat Populus ethics initiative has decided to move on its own.
Earlier this year, we were very excited that there had been talk of the legislature making an attempt to introduce some sort of Ethics Reform legislation. While at first it seemed that progress was being made, the initial momentum now seems to be stalling. This has prompted Regnat Populus to take the following action.
On Wednesday, the 13th of February, Regnat Populus will kick-off canvassing efforts beginning at the State Capitol. We will be encouraging our fellow Arkansans in the State House and Senate to take a position on our ethics measure by asking them to sign our petition. All are invited to attend, including the media. We will begin at 12:00 and canvass until 3:00pm. Canvassers please meet us at 11:30 on the ground floor of the Rotunda to get petition sheets. Of course their responses will be made public record, so even those of you who cannot attend will know if your Representative or Senator supports the measure.
We also wish to invite all of you to contact your State Legislators and ask them to continue to move in the direction of introducing and supporting meaningful ethics reform.
On Thursday, February 14th from 9-3pm, Regnat Populus will pay another visit to the Capitol for Advocacy Day. Volunteers will be on hand to enroll those wishing to help in this important effort and answer any questions regarding R.P. Stop by and see us!
In closing, it should not be forgotten that there will be ethics reform in Arkansas. We continue to be willing to work with the General Assembly in the spirit of compromise and unity. However, should this avenue yield no or substandard results, we stand ready, willing and able accomplish the task at hand. There will be ethics reform in Arkansas-we are not going to go away.
The tally of legislative signers will be interesting. Do they support an end to lobbyist handouts? An impediment to instant moves to fat lobbying jobs, such as former Sen. Gilbert Baker just executed? An end to direct corporate contributions to campaigns?
Call the roll.
The state Ethics Commission has settled a complaint over state House candidate Mark Lowery's failure to file campaign finance reports in a timely manner with an agreed letter of caution and $150 fine.Here's the outcome of the case.
Lowery failed to file a final report for his primary campaign and three monthly reports during the critical period of the general election campaign. This denied the public any knowledge of who was paying for his campaign. Reports eventually filed showed he was almost entirely financed by corporate interests. He also benefitted from one of those "ticketed event" scams in which other Republican legislators wrote him checks from campaign funds, generally prohibited by law, under the guise that they were attending a political event that might benefit their campaigns. Might not have made a difference had voters known this. It might have. He won a hard-fought race for the Maumelle seat against Kelly Halstead.
FOR EXAMPLE: Check out the special interest money that paid off his campaign debt, in a report filed just this week.
Still: a $150 slap on the wrist for a corporate toady for intentional disregard of campaign finance laws for a period of four months in the heat of a campaign? Why should anybody obey the law if this is the consequence?
David Trussell, who filed the complaint, comments:
As promised. Sen. Bruce Maloch has filed a simple one-paragraph amendment to existing law to bring a screeching halt to a growing abuse of campaign finance rules.
His bill would end the spending of campaign money on other political campaigns, by terming expenditures on tickets to campaign fund-raisers a prohibited personal expenditure. Which of course they are.
Democrats and Republicans alike have abused this law, though Republicans were in the forefront in 2012. The history is that legislators begged an Ethics Commission exemption for use of campaign money to buy tickets to "pie suppers" and the like. A candidate argued that he or she was well-served politically by going to the church hall for a charity pie auction. Buying a ticket for such an event was a legitimate campaign expense, they argued, and won the exemption. Then came the semi-truck-sized loophole. Political candidates began holding "ticketed events" for their fund-raisers. There'd be tickets. But the event might be nothing more than lunch at Doe's attended by only legislators, who wrote checks from their campaign accounts to another campaign account. Incumbents with no true campaign expenses are most frequently the source of this money. It's an abusive practice. It provides an end-run around campaign limits for contributors who can launder money through candidates paying at "ticketed events." It is cheap influence peddling by legislators with their colleagues.
Good for Bruce Maloch. Can he get a second?
UPDATE: He at least has a House co-sponsor — Freshamn Rep. Warwick Sabin of Little Rock. They'll need a two-thirds vote to amend an initiated act.
AND SPEAKING OF NEW BILLS:
Sen. Johnny Key, with support from Sen. Fireball Holland and Rep. Bourbon and Bacon Biviano, has filed his bill to open the door to virtually unlimited school transfers. It removes all consideration of impact on segregation in transfers except when a proposed transfer "results in a conflict with an enforceable judicial decree or court order remedying the effects of past racial segregation." If, for example, the Pulaski County School District can get released from federal court supervision, then every white student in Jacksonville could transfer to Cabot. Or, though not likely, vice versa.
Wrote Bell as Oaklawn opens another season of horse racing to add a little blood sport to its lucrative casino operation:
Every year at this time I get many requests for the Oaklawn passes traditionally given away by legislators. As a general rule, I don't accept event tickets/passes from organizations offering them and do not have any to distribute. If you REALLY need $2 so you can watch a horse race let me know. I'll try to help out.
No freebies. Good rule. Good for Nate Bell. Give the honorable Mena legislator today's Duncan Baird Good Government Trophy .
Interesting thought. Would the proposed Regnat Populus ethics initiative, with its absolute ban on gifts from lobbyists or "anyone employing a lobbyist" end this pernicious practice? I think so. Meanwhile, more Nate Bells could de facto end it.
How's that for service? (I'm sure the office would say it is only coincidental.)
This morning I reprinted a little snark from Paul Spencer, who's leading the Regnat Populus ethics initiative campaign, about the attorney general's office's slowness in certifying the form of their measure so that signature gathering can begin.
Just now, I got news that the attorney general's office issued an opinion today certifying the form of the most recent revision of the proposal.
Let the people rule. Let's get this on the ballot and add at least a bit more oomph to ethics regulation in Arkansas.
To recap, the measure:
* Prohibits direct corporate contributions to political candidates.
* Imposes a two-year waiting period for legislators to become lobbyists.
* Makes it a misdemeanor for legislators and statewide elected officials to take gifts from lobbyists.
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