More ethics legislation on the way | Arkansas Blog

Friday, November 18, 2016

More ethics legislation on the way

Posted By on Fri, Nov 18, 2016 at 9:28 AM

In mentioning ethics legislation filed yesterday, I mentioned more was expected.

A news release from the Senate about the whole package notes that additional legislation will prohibit elected officials from being registered lobbyists at the state or federal level. I'd always thought the law already prohibited this at the state level (and many legislators hold paying jobs that are the functional equivalent) but apparently there is nothing specific on the books.

Another bill will prevent PAC log-rolling — one PAC giving to another PAC. All the log-rolling is done to maximize corporate contributions to candidates. Such direct contributions are prohibited, but PACs (sometimes multiple PACs operated by the same person) can easily evade the rule.

Another proposal would prohibit loans by lobbyists to lawmakers. It happens. See Sen. Jake Files, who used such a loan from Bruce Hawkins to pay off a hot check.

Another proposal would shorten the campaign money-raising period from two years toa little more than 18 months, a rule that currently heavily favors incumbents.

The bill also would put more campaign reports on-line, rather than require a trip to the secretary of state's office.

Democrats sponsoring the package of bills says they expect bipartisan support.

The release:

Leaders of the Senate and House Democratic Caucuses on Thursday filed a package of ethics bills for consideration during the 2017 regular session.

Senator Keith Ingram of West Memphis, the Senate Minority Leader, said that he expected bipartisan support for the bills. Representative Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, a co-sponsor, said that he expected bipartisan support for the ethics package.

“Ethics laws are constantly evolving, and our goal is to tighten some loopholes and make common sense changes,” Ingram said. “Ultimately, we hope to restore a measure of public confidence in the political process.”

"We are working to enhance the transparency and accountability of Arkansas's elected officials and in the process restore some faith in government,” Tucker said. “These pieces of legislation will strengthen the integrity of the overall system. I look forward to working with legislators in both parties to make them law."

Under the legislation, so-called “dark money” groups trying to influence Arkansas elections would have to disclose their funding sources and how their funds are spent. Also, there would be tighter limits on the extent to which candidates could coordinate with third party groups that purchase political advertisements on their behalf.

The package includes a bill that would prohibit legislators and constitutional officers from being registered lobbyists, either at the state or national level.

One bill would prohibit state elected officials from forming or holding more than one Political Action Committee. Another would prohibit a PAC from making a contribution to another PAC.

Another bill would expand the scope of laws involving abuse of public trust and abuse of office, so that they include activities conducted after a person’s election or appointment to office and before his or her officially being sworn in. It also would enhance penalties for the offenses.

Another measure would prohibit state elected officials from soliciting or accepting loans from a lobbyist.

There would be more severe penalties for converting campaign contributions to personal use under legislation proposed by the lawmakers. It would make the penalties more closely correspond to those for theft of property.

A bill in the ethics package would protect victims of judicial misconduct. It would create a cause of action against judges and justices who have been convicted of certain offenses, such as bribery. Basically, the bill would create an exemption in current judicial immunity statutes.

Candidates would have a shorter period of time in which they could solicit campaign donations. Under the proposed legislation, a candidate could not accept a contribution until the prior general election has taken place. Currently, candidates can accept donations two years before a race.

The effect would be to shorten the period of soliciting contributions by about five and a half months. For example, this year candidates have announced they would seek election in the primary of May, 2018, and they could legally solicit campaign contributions since May of 2016. If the proposed bill were in effect, they could not accept donations until November 9, the day after this year’s general election.

One bill would add to the list of campaign finance reports that the Secretary of State would have to post on the office’s web site, making it much easier for the public to access those reports. Now, it’s necessary to drive to Little Rock, find a parking space and locate the files in the basement of the Capitol in order to see some campaign finance reports.

For additional information contact Senator Keith Ingram, the Senate Minority Leader, Representative Michael John Gray, the House Minority Leader, or Representative Clarke Tucker.

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