Favorite

Beware that word 'reform' 

I'm open to a means of judicial selection other than election, which is prone to undue influence by nefarious secret money. But is the Arkansas legislature up to the job?

Beware legislators bearing gifts of "reform."

Last week I wrote about judicial "reform." I'm open to a means of judicial selection other than election, which is prone to undue influence by nefarious secret money. But is the Arkansas legislature up to the job? Based on the record, no.

Consider ethics "reform." Some well-meaning private citizens promoted stronger ethics legislation to the point that the Arkansas legislature put an amendment on the ballot in 2014. But by the time legislators had fiddled with the proposed constitutional amendment and then gamed the enabling legislation, the result was a hollow gesture.

Voters had opened the door to longer term limits. They had provided a tool to almost triple legislative pay. They did little to reduce excessive expense account claims. Legislative amendments made things worse. They provided loopholes to avoid the prohibition on wining and dining of legislators by lobbyists. The amendment also did nothing to stop legislators from hitting the revolving door at the Capitol to "consultant" jobs that, if not technically lobbying, were indistinguishable.

Last week, Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette went through the annual (and laughably limited) personal financial disclosure statements of state legislators and found many of them had taken free junkets last year to places like France, China, Israel, Florida and Colorado.

The ethics "reform" law prohibits lobbyist-paid trips. But legislators allowed themselves free trips to "educational" meetings of national groups. The result: Putative nonprofits (some aligned with special interest political lobbies) provide the freebies. Right-wing and corporate viewpoints predominate on the meeting agendas.

Legislators got a Florida trip from an outfit that pioneered the law to drug-test welfare recipients. Other legislators were feted by groups financed by charter school management companies and other profiteers in the education "reform" movement. The pro-Israel lobby gave a couple of legislators a week in Israel (not much face time with Palestinian sympathizers, I'd bet).

Foundations have even been formed to "educate" legislative "leaders." Senate President Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy) got a trip to France from such a group. Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot), the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce's legislation bellhop, got a $5,600 junket to China paid by a group underwritten by major corporate interests — insurance, tobacco, big pharma. Critics describe it as "tutelage" for corporate politics.

Such gaming of the system inspires cynicism when the legislature talks of reform. Reforms tend to make life more comfortable for legislators, not the people they serve. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, for example, is complaining far and wide about RESTRICTIONS of Arkansas campaign finance law. He'd like to see it "reformed" so he could raise money nonstop, as would most incumbents. Reforms, you may be sure, do NOT include searchable online financial databases.

Given that dark money is allowed to "educate" lawmakers on free trips, I have little hope that the same legislators will vote to end dark money in elections. The NRA spent money in judicial races. Is Gov. Hutchinson, once employed by the NRA, likely to support a law requiring the NRA to disclose sources of its election spending? The hate group known as the Family Council — in its ascendancy in Republican-dominated Arkansas — won't countenance disclosure of its anti-woman bankrollers, either.

If the coming special and regular legislative sessions give us nothing by way of "reform," that may not be a cause for mourning.

The ballot remains open to popular initiatives, though the legislature has worked hard to make this more difficult with impediments to canvassing. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is also proving a reliable speed brake to citizen initiatives.

Some good government groups keep trying. Little Rock attorney David Couch has asked Rutledge to review an amendment to fix wrongs in the 2014 "ethics" amendment. It would lower campaign contribution limits; end corporate contributions to PACs; require disclosure of those people contributing to independent election campaigns, and end loopholes for free wining and dining and trips of any sort, including from "educational groups."

Best of all, Couch's proposal would prohibit the legislature from amending the people's amendment. Once bitten, twice cured.

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Little Rock's time

    It is time for Little Rock to demonstrate it is the leading city in Arkansas.
    • Feb 19, 2015
  • The education legislature

    Republican political control in Arkansas means many things: lots of gun bills, lots of anti-abortion bills, lots of efforts to make religious belief law, such as discrimination against gay people.
    • Mar 10, 2015
  • The free lunch legislature

    Is it any wonder the Arkansas legislature thinks you can get something for nothing?
    • Feb 26, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Who's harming women?

    Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is an Arkansas Republican. Thus, like the governor and the Republican-majority legislature, she intends to do everything she can to deny women comprehensive medical care, particularly abortion.
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • Dope, dice, death

    Unless the Arkansas Supreme Court decides otherwise, voters will have six constitutional amendments and one initiated act to consider in the Nov. 8 election.
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Medical marijuana? Yes.

    Proponents of competing medical marijuana proposals have begun sniping at each other. Private cultivation and methods of dispensation are among the arguments.
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

September

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Medical marijuana? Yes.

    • I have epilepsy seizures . My mama said I have had them since six mths.old…

    • on September 25, 2016
  • Re: Don't blame trigger warnings

    • It would seem pretty much a given that an instructor, even at the university level,…

    • on September 24, 2016
  • Re: Dope, dice, death

    • At this rate a special master will soon be needed to adjudicate the citations handed…

    • on September 24, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation