Attorney General Rutledge sued over her blockage of ethics amendment | Arkansas Blog

Friday, May 13, 2016

Attorney General Rutledge sued over her blockage of ethics amendment

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2016 at 3:29 PM

DAVID COUCH: Suing Leslie Rutledge. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • DAVID COUCH: Suing Leslie Rutledge.

As promised, Little Rock lawyer David Couch has sued Attorney General Leslie Rutledge for her resistance to approving the form of a proposed constitutional amendment to tighten the state ethics law.

Rutledge has cited a variety of objections to Couch's ballot title in refusing to approve its form. Approval is required before petitions may be circulated. Any constitutional amendment must get almost 85,000 valid signatures of registered voters by July 8 to qualify for the ballot. The law says a petitioner may go to the Supreme Court if "aggrieved" at the attorney general.

Couch filed direct with the Arkansas Supreme Court and will ask Monday for an expedited hearing. Statute says the attorney must approve and certify a proposal in 10 days "or shall substitute and certify a ballot title." Rutledge has refused to propose an alternate title for Couch's three attempts.

Couch argued that Rutledge misreads law when she says she is able to refuse to offer an alternative. He said that option applies only when an issue is presented in a way to mislead voters. There has been no allegation that Couch's amendment is misleading, only that it hasn't identified all the possible consequences of its terms.

Couch also complained that Rutledge had failed to meet the statute's 10-day response standard. She claims she's entitled to 10 business days, or two full weeks, though the statute contains no such qualification.

Couch wants the Supreme Court to order Rutledge to approve his amendment or substitute a more suitable one. He said his effort is irreparably harmed if he can't meet the statutory date for publication of June 8 and it restricts his time to circulate petitions.

He noted Rutledge had not criticized the text of the measure, only the ballot title, which is a summary of provisions.

Couch's amendment would ban gifts to legislators, a prohibition in an earlier amendment that legislators have found a way to work around. He'd also stop corporate contributions to PACs and, significantly, require more disclosure of dark money in campaigns against political candidates. Rutledge was elected with the benefit of hundreds of thousands in dark money spent against her opponent, Nate Steel. An umbrella group bought the ads without identifying sources of money.

Couch hasn't yet identified backers of the ethics measure, but will report if and when a paid canvassing campaign begins.

Canvassers will be at work this summer in addition on a term limits measure, a tort reform measure, various marijuana proposals and perhaps a casino amendment. Legal action may be in the offing, Couch indicated, because of some rules imposed on paid canvassers by the 2015 legislature. Those rules were intended to discourage such campaigns.

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