Favorite

Ethics fight still on 

Friday was the deadline to submit signatures for initiated acts and constitutional amendments.

Four proposals cleared the initial hurdle but still must be verified as to legitimate signatures of registered voters. Two would grant exclusive casino permits; one would legalize medical use of marijuana, and one would increase the severance tax on natural gas.

The only petition drive motivated purely by principle failed to gather the 62,507 signatures necessary. It was the Regnat Populus 2012 ethics reform initiative, the brainchild of Catholic High teacher Paul Spencer. It would have ended direct corporate contributions to Arkansas political candidates, just as federal law prohibits such contributions. It would have imposed a so-called Walmart rule to outlaw gifts of any size to lawmakers, just as Walmart prohibits its employees from accepting gratuities from vendors. Finally, it would have set a two-year cooling-off period for lawmakers who want to become lobbyists. This would have invalidated the grandfather clause given to the current crop of term-limited legislators with plans to head straight to the lobby.

The ethics drive didn't fail on account of lack of enthusiasm. Only a corporate lobbyist or greedy legislator could oppose it. But the backers started late, with less than four months to gather signatures. They'd have fallen even shorter had not a bipartisan group of good-government angels raised at least $65,000 to pay a professional canvassing firm to gather signatures in the final six weeks of the effort.

The canvassing firm, Terra Strategies, provided optimistic assurances up until the day before the deadline, leaving some unhappy ethics campaigners when they didn't deliver. Paid canvassers got the job done in the other efforts.

Regnat Populus 2012 learned much in its failed labor — procedurally, politically and otherwise — during a blistering hot summer. It had to overcome efforts to block its canvassing in a public park at both Riverfest and, unbelievably, a celebration of Independence Day sponsored by the state's largest newspaper. Petition for ethics on July 4 in a public park? Not if the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette had anything to say about it.

Spencer announced the shortfall with a note of optimism. "With this wisdom and a redoubled resolve, we will emerge from the crucible, composed of a stronger alloy of solidarity and purpose, determination and longing."

Others, too, said the drive could set the stage, as early as the 2013 legislature, for strides forward in ethics. I hope they're right, though I'm pessimistic. Republicans were outspoken opponents of the measure. They live on corporate contributions. They sense a coming Republican majority and are anxious for the freebies that will come with greater power. Aware of how unseemly their whining about better ethics looked, some cooler Republican heads expressed an interest in ethics advancement after the drive failed, generally along the lines of support for full disclosure on contributions and expenditures.

It's empty rhetoric. Disclosure is already a failure. Witness all the ways lobbyists have found to evade full disclosure of their hog-slopping and the repeated failure of lawmakers to disclose free trips they've taken. Nor has any Republican yet called for full disclosure of the many ways in which money is spent independently in support of candidates. They like secrecy.

The silver lining is that legislative repudiation of ethics proposals inspired the last great step forward in Arkansas ethics law more than two decades ago. Should lawmakers stomp on the public spirited again, it might be just the tonic Regnat Populus needs to try an initiative again. With an earlier start.

Favorite

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Speaking of Paul Spencer, Regnat Populus 2012

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Double-talk

    A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Are you being served?

    These aren't good times for confidence in public servants.

    • Mar 22, 2018
  • Send in the segs

    The state Board of Education last week rejected requests from Camden Fairview, Hope, Lafayette County and Junction City to be exempt from the state law requiring students to be able to freely transfer between school districts.
    • Mar 15, 2018
  • Rich get richer

    Arkansas State University heard from a paid consultant last week about ways to become more efficient — make more money, in other words — and perhaps even serve students better.
    • Mar 8, 2018
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Redefining candidate quality

    Despite what national party organizations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Campaign Committee say, conventional definitions of candidate quality are not leading to progressive wins in 2018.
  • Stormy shaming

    Can we talk about Stormy Daniels? More specifically, can we talk about how we talk about Stormy Daniels?
  • Trump and Comey

    In the Bizarro World of the Trump administration, it's only fitting that the president serves as publicity director for James Comey's big book tour. (In the old Superman comics, Bizarro World was an upside-down reality where wickedness was virtue and vice versa.) Supposedly, Trump's stomping around the White House and various golf courses red-faced with anger, emitting smoke from his ears.
  • Week That Was

    After the wildest week of the wildest presidency in history, the clouded future suddenly unfolds more clearly and, yes, nearer. That includes the end of the Trump presidency.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Stormy shaming

    • Ms. Daniels is a female version of Trump. Someone with a valuable talent for making…

    • on April 19, 2018
  • Re: Stormy shaming

    • I do not automatically have contempt for women who have careers built around selling sex…

    • on April 19, 2018
  • Re: Stormy shaming

    • And if new 15 minutes of fame celebrity is a fat, fast-food worker then she'd…

    • on April 18, 2018
 

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