Committee aims to toughen Arkansas ethics law | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Committee aims to toughen Arkansas ethics law

Posted By on Sun, Feb 5, 2012 at 7:43 AM

CLEAN IT UP: New group would reduce influence of money on politics.
  • Ozarks Unbound
  • CLEAN IT UP: New group would reduce influence of money on politics.
The Democrat-Gazette's annual article on legislative expense reimbursements is a good takeoff for what could be good news on the ethics front — a campaign for an initiated act to stiffen Arkansas ethics laws.

The D-G article noted that legislators, nominally limited to about $14,000 a year in pay, manage to knock down $40,000 to $50,000 through dubiously supported expense reimbursements. Numbers are down this year, thanks to pressure from a number of sources, but they are not down that much when you consider that a lawsuit (of which I'm a part) is certain to eventually end current expense practices that amount to unconstitutional pay enhancements.

Moral: Legislators must be protected from themselves, because they don't have the ethical bearings to do it on their own.

So enter the Regnat Populus 2012 ballot question committee. It filed organizational papers with the state Ethics Commission last week. Its chair, Paul Spencer, a teacher at Catholic High School, talked to me a bit about the work that is underway. A Facebook page and website are in the works and you may be sure I'll provide links when they are ready.

Spencer and a like-minded group of good goverment types — including lawyers, a minister who's been active in the Occupy Little Rock work and many more — hope to organize from the grassroots and through social media a statewide organization to put an ethics law on the ballot in 2012. They'lll need 63,000 signatures by July and hope to gather 80,000 to have some breathing room in the certification process. They don't intend to raise a lot of money for the cause, a sign of their admirable, if perhaps naive, idealism. Spencer said it made no sense to strike a blow against the corrosive influence of money in politics by raising a bunch of money to fight money in politics.

The final draft of the initiative is under review by lawyers and should be submitted to the attorney general within the month. Here are the probable major thrusts:

* WALMART RULE: At last, at last. The law would ban lobbyist spending on legislators. No more drinks. No more steaks. No more trips. If out-of-state junkets are useful to legislators, let them ask for public reimbursement and justify the expenses.

* REVOLVING DOOR: The one-year cooling-off period now in place before a legislator may walk into a fat job as a lobbyist? The law would make it FIVE.

* CORPORATE INFLUENCE: The initiative would make state campaign finance law parallel federal campaign finance law. The biggest difference — THE END OF CORPORATE CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS. In Arkansas, the corporate influence is even more pernicious because the same people can make maximum contributions under the names of multiple corporate shells.

* CITIZENS UNITED: The ballot measure would be styled as a non-binding vote of disapproval against the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that established corporate personhood in political spending.

Like the sound of this? I do. I can't wait to hear the Chamber of Commerce messages that are devised to explain why these are bad things.

Want to be a part of it? Make suggestions for additions to the initiative. Send an e-mail here:

You also could drop by the Arkansas Coalition for Peace and Justice meeting at 6 p.m. tonight at the Unitarian-Universalist Church to hear Marie O'Connell talk about the plans.

CORRECTION: I didn't see the e-mail aboout Marie O'Connell's talk until today, but it was sent last night. That session with the Coalition for Peace and Justice was LAST NIGHT. NO MEETING TONIGHT. But there will be others.

PS — If you didn't know, Regnat Populus is the state motto — the people rule. Not corporations.

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