Senate rejects amended bill to close 'coordinated communications' loophole in campaign finance | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Senate rejects amended bill to close 'coordinated communications' loophole in campaign finance

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 4:21 PM

click to enlarge NOT AN INCH: Rep. Clarke Tucker tried, but the Senate refused even the smallest step towards campaign finance reform. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • BRIAN CHILSON
  • NOT AN INCH: Rep. Clarke Tucker tried, but the Senate refused even the smallest step towards campaign finance reform.

Here's another minor outrage from the last days of the session: Yesterday evening, a pared down version of Rep. Clarke Tucker's bill to close an especially egregious loophole in state campaign finance law was killed by the Senate. It passed the House last week by a narrow margin.

The vote on HB 1425 was 15-2, with 16 members not voting. All of the Democrats voted yes, except for Sen. Stephanie Flowers, who voted "present." Several Republicans also supported the bill, but not enough to win passage.

HB 1425 started out as legislation to require that electioneering communications — that is, political ads created and bought by an entity nominally independent of a particular candidate's campaign — be disclosed to the Secretary of State, just like regular campaign expenditures. This only makes sense. It's absurd that outside groups — be they on the left or the right — should be able to get away with buying ads on behalf of a candidate but avoid reporting the money. Yet the idea was quickly squashed in committee with spurious claims that requiring reporting and disclosure of such funds would lead to "intimidation" of donors. 

So, Tucker forged ahead with a compromise version that dropped the reporting and disclosure requirement but would at least close a particularly bad loophole in Arkansas law. It clarified that if an outside group buys an ad on behalf of a candidate, it at least cannot coordinate that ad with the campaign. That's the point of outside groups in the first place: They exist outside of a campaign. Allowing an outside group to coordinate with a campaign makes a mockery of finance laws.

Most people weren't aware of this loophole until the "saltshaker ad" by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in last fall's election. Rutledge got away with actually appearing herself in a $300,000 TV commercial purchased by a group called the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA. She argued that the ad was somehow not a political ad for her campaign. The Arkansas Ethics Commission agreed, despite the grotesque contortion of common sense required.

Tucker's bill would have prohibited such a practice by stating that a "coordinated communication" must be treated as a contribution. But as it stands, the spending loophole is wide open for 2016.

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