A new move for a strong ethics law for Arkansas | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A new move for a strong ethics law for Arkansas

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 at 7:28 AM

DAVID COUCH: A new ethics measure. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • DAVID COUCH: A new ethics measure.

Little Rock lawyer David Couch
has submitted a proposed constitutional amendment to strengthen the state ethics law for review by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

If recent past is a guide, Rutledge will dally in reviewing the measure and find much not to like about it because it is aimed at correcting all the damage done by the 2014 "ethics reform" amendment put on the ballot by the legislature and later amended into even thinner gruel by the Arkansas legislature.

If you read me, you know the story: The 2014 amendment — a compromise by good government forces and the legislature — has proved a sore disappointment. It provided legislators with longer terms and higher pay and, while seemingly reining in freebies from lobbyists, did nothing to stop free wining and dining, free junkets and Louis XIV-style dinners (public not invited) for the House speaker and Senate president financed by lobbyists. Much of the damage was done by legislative amendments in 2015 after voter adoption the previous November.

Couch says a broad coalition will soon announce more details about its campaign to pass this proposed amendment. He's not releasing details yet, but says it should have some poll numbers to offer on the public's support for stronger ethics law. I don't know if it includes the Better Ethics Committee formed by Brent Bumpers, Baker Kurrus, Jim Keet and others that made a belated unsuccessful run at an initiative campaign in 2012. That group was left with a surplus when their effort didn't clear the ballot on account of a late start.

But get a load of laudable goals of this amendment (which doesn't touch the term limit and pay portions):

* CONTRIBUTIONS: It would reduce the maximum campaign contribution per election from $2,700 to $1,500.

* PACS: Political action committees could no longer accept corporate contributions, only money from individuals. Corporate-funded PACs have become the preferred way to get around the ban on corporate contributions to individual campaigns. Politicians have set up PACs to facilitate the corporate flow.

* DARK MONEY: Any group that spends $2,000 on independent election activities would have to disclose the source of the money.  For now, they can get away with murder (no disclosure) if they avoid specific language such as "VOTE AGAINST."  The advertising would have to include disclosure of sponsors.

* FREEBIES: The amendment would put an end to any sort of gifts from lobbyists or entities that employ lobbyists. This would end the "scheduled event" exception by which the legislature was wined and dined daily during the last legislative session whenever all members of a particular body were invited to an event. It would end the junkets provided by "educational foundations" that amount to thinly disguised special interest lobbies.

* GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARDS: The amendment eliminates the loophole created by the legislature that — when notified of an ethics form reporting violation — they have 30 days for a no-foul correction.

* PENALTY: It increase fines for ethics violations to a possible $10,000, from $1,000.

* THE PEOPLE RULE: The amendment removes the ability of the legislature to change the amendment to create loopholes, as they've done with abandon. Only another constitutional amendment approved by voters could bring changes.

If the lobbyists' and special interest group lawyers aren't already at work fly-specking this proposal, they soon will be. From the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce and lobbyists like Ted Mullenix will come harrumphs and whines about interference with the customary conduct of business. No kidding.

The rise of Trump — including in Arkansas — gives some hopes that voters have grown weary of politicians who say one thing ("ethics reform") and do another — (slug wine,  chomp steaks, travel to China, benefit from secret spending by special interest groups). There are no red herrings to raise here — no men in women's bathrooms, no freebies for welfare deadbeats (unless you could the many legislators who would have no income were it not for their now much richer legislative pay, expense perks and freebies). It's just about a cleaner way of doing the public's business. If the 2014 ethics amendment proved anything, it proved the legislature can't be trusted to police itself.

PS — The  path to the ballot will be even more difficult than before because the legislature — yes, them again — took steps to make it harder to hire canvassers to circulate ballot petitions. It would have been tougher still had not Couch succeeded in winning a lawsuit that struck down an even more onerous anti-petition law. This latest ethics measure should tell you plenty about why they don't like grassroots lawmaking.

Tags: , , , , , ,


Comments (8)

Showing 1-8 of 8

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-8 of 8

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Obamacare's ruin: Where are the boastful press releases from Arkansas Republicans?

    Silence so far from Republican politicians such as Leslie Rutledge on achievement of their long-stated dream, death to the Affordable Care Act. Could that be because most people now understand what a good thing President Obama did with its passage?
    • Dec 15, 2018
  • Entergy demolishes old power plant near Stamps

    Entergy, the state's largest electric utility, yesterday used explosives to destroy the major parts of its closed Couch Plant near Stamps, which dated to 1943 and was designed to burn fuel oil or gas at two generating units. Named for power company founder Harvey Couch, it's been out of commission since 2013.
    • Dec 15, 2018
  • City Board to consider enriched retirement for retiring Mayor Mark Stodola

    The Little Rock City Board agenda for its last meeting of the year Tuesday includes, as expected, a vote on an ordinance that will significantly sweeten retiring Mayor Mark Stodola's retirement and apply to future mayors as well. The agenda, however, carries no mention of resolution of his claim for an estimated $173,000 in pay for unused vacation and leave time.
    • Dec 15, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Among the last words from Kenneth Williams: 'Finger Lickin' Good Fried Chicken'

    What's purported to be a final-words essay from condemned prisoner Kenneth Williams was distributed today by Deborah Robinson, a freelance journalist in Arkansas.  He reflects on his execution, his victims, reactions of inmates and big servings of fried chicken, which he says are given to all inmates on execution days.
    • Apr 27, 2017
  • French Hill votes against disaster aid to Puerto Rico

    Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill alone among Arkansas's House delegation voted last week against a measure that provided $36.5 billion in disaster aid, a portion  for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico as well as money for wildfire response and to support the flood insurance program.
    • Oct 14, 2017
  • Presidential thriller, co-author Bill Clinton, coming to bookstores in 2018

    June 2018 is the expected publication date for a novel collaboration by former President Bill Clinton and crime writer James Patterson.
    • May 9, 2017


  • Arkansas vs Ole Miss at War Memorial stadium in Little Rock, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. After leading for much of the game, Arkansas lost 37-33 when Ole Miss scored the game winning Touchdown with less that 2 minutes left. 
  • Margaret Clark Adventure Park
    New sculptures, preschoolers play area dedicated in Riverfront Park in Little Rock.

Most Recent Comments


© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation