Rutledge approves campaign finance reform ballot measure from Regnat Populus | Arkansas Blog

Friday, June 12, 2015

Rutledge approves campaign finance reform ballot measure from Regnat Populus

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 12:00 PM

REGNAT POPULUS: Paul Spencer chairs the group. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • BRIAN CHILSON
  • REGNAT POPULUS: Paul Spencer chairs the group.

Yesterday, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge certified a proposed initiated act by the good government citizens' group Regnat Populus to "require uniform reporting of campaign expenditures, disclosure of advertising donors, and other purposes."

This is primarily about closing the regulatory loophole around "electioneering" expenditures — political advertising that avoids scrutiny by the Arkansas Ethics Commission by not using "express advocacy" words. If a political ad does not include narrow phrasings such as "vote for" or "vote against," it is not considered a campaign ad by the state of Arkansas. This ridiculous loophole effectively allows for unlimited campaign spending without the public ever being aware of who's bankrolling the advertising. (Rutledge herself benefited in 2014 from a sizable electioneering ad buy under circumstances that were ethically questionable but, according to a decision from the Ethics Commission, permissible under Arkansas law.)

Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) attempted to do something similar this session through legislation, but it was shot down in committee. Last fall, I spoke with Paul Spencer of Regnat Populus about the urgent need to close the electioneering loophole in Arkansas campaign finance law.

The proposed initiated act also calls for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would undo the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Citizen United and other major campaign finance cases, which have undone much federal elections law in recent years and paved the way for the proliferation of Super PACs.

Only about two weeks ago, Rutledge rejected a previous attempt by Regnat Populus to get the measure on the ballot. Her opinion cited issues with the clarity of the measure's ; it's routine for the AG to reject proposed ballot initiatives based on language. (The AG doesn't officially comment on the substance of any proposed ballot initiative, only it meets certain legal standards in terms of what it communicates to voters.) In certifying the measure yesterday, the AG rewrote a portion of the ballot title for clarity's sake.

Here's the text of the measure, as rewritten:

This Act amends Arkansas law regarding campaign finance in the following six ways:

(1) First, the Act creates two new categories of election-related spending by expanding the definition of what is currently called an “independent expenditure.” Currently, Arkansas law defines an “independent expenditure” as an expenditure (a) that is not a “contribution,” which current law separately defines (b) that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for office, and (c) that is made without arranging, cooperating, or consulting with any candidate or his or her authorized committee or agent. This Act expands the definition of “independent expenditure” to also include two additional kinds of election-related speech. First, it expands the definition to include expenditures for communications that functionally advocate for or against a candidate. This means that, though the communication effectively urges a vote for or against a candidate, the communication does not expressly do so. Second, this Act expands the definition of “independent expenditure” to include expenditures for communications without regard to whether they advocate (expressly or functionally) for the election of a clearly-identified candidate for office. Specifically, the definition is expanded to include an expenditure for a communication that mentions a candidate, occurs within 60 days of the election, and targets a certain number of the candidate’s electorate.

(2) Second, this Act requires that a person who makes a payment or promises to pay at least $2,000 in the aggregate for any of the foregoing kinds of independent expenditures must report to the Secretary of State or County Clerk (whichever is appropriate, depending on the office) (a) the amount of the payment, (b) the elections to which the payment pertains, (c) the names of the candidates identified, and (d) the name, address, occupation of the person who made (or will make) the payment.

(3) Third, this Act requires that a person who receives contributions in of at least $500 in the aggregate in a calendar year for the purpose of making independent expenditures must file reports electronically with the Secretary of State or County Clerk (whichever is appropriate) according to the same quarterly and monthly schedule that currently applies to candidates for office.

(4) Fourth, this Act requires that, within 60 days of an election, a person or committee that receives at least $500 in a calendar year for the purpose of making independent expenditures must file additional reports with the Secretary of State or County Clerk (whichever is appropriate) for each additional independent expenditure of at least $2,000 in the aggregate. These reports must include certain specified information, including (among other things) the name, address, place of business, employer, and occupation of any person who contributed at least $200

(5) Fifth, this Act requires certain persons to establish and maintain a “Disclosure Internet Web site” that identifies the contributors who gave the top 10 largest cumulative contributions.

(6) Sixth, this Act requires that certain election-related advertisements—whether on video, television, telephone, or print—contain specific information about the “Top Funders” of that specific advertisement.

In addition, this Act also proposes a resolution that calls upon the Congressional Delegation of Arkansas to support, and the Arkansas General Assembly to ratify, an amendment to the United States Constitution clarifying the power of Congress and the States to regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections, and in so doing, to distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

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