A bright spot: Warwick Sabin's effort produces a winning ethics law | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A bright spot: Warwick Sabin's effort produces a winning ethics law

Posted By on Wed, Nov 5, 2014 at 6:31 AM

click to enlarge WAVE THE FLAG: For Rep. Warwick Sabin, who scored a little-noticed but important victory last night.
  • WAVE THE FLAG: For Rep. Warwick Sabin, who scored a little-noticed but important victory last night.
The wreckage of the Democratic Party of Arkansas this morning looks, if anything, more thorough than it did last night.

But there's a curious and unexpected bright spot that could affect future election outcomes.

Issue 3 apparently will pass 53-47. It lengthens term limits — up to 16 years in a single chamber of the legislature. And it provides a non-political way for legislators to get pay raises from a commission they'll select. But … But ...

Issue 3 includes some stronger ethics measures. I wrote a column for this week confidently predicting defeat of the measure and looking toward a new, cleaner ethics effort.

But no. Voters, despite huge spending by term limits supporters, approved this amendment, and two other legislatively referred amendments. Issue 3 was the big surprise — a product of bipartisan work by Democratic Rep. Warwick Sabin and GOP Sen. Jonathan Woods. Everyone significant abandoned it after it was sent to the ballot, including me, for discomfort with the add-on provisions. It had no organized support of any sort. Yet it passed.

Here's the text.

It prohibits gifts by lobbyists to legislators. No more free meals and drinks.

It sets a two-year cooling off period to become a lobbyist. 

And here is the big one — it prohibits direct campaign contributions from corporations (and unions) to candidates for public office.

This is HUGE. ENORMOUS.

Some candidates wouldn't have campaign treasuries at all without corporate money. Some corporate money can still flow to them through PACs. Direct union contributions are far rarer.

This should end the practice of a single individual sending multiple contributions to candidates through various corporate identities. Nursing home owner Michael Morton was the most infamous offender this cycle, with important contributions to judicial races and almost $100,000 in giving to Leslie Rutledge, who won the attorney general's office.

Will politicians and their enablers dare mess with the voters' new law?

This will be fun to watch take shape. Not to mention watching legislators in the 2015 session pay for their own meals.

For his trouble on this effort, liberal Democrat Sabin not only was abandoned, he was vilified by the likes of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page. He was a rare Democratic winner Tuesday night, even though I know him well enough to know it will be cold comfort.

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