Favorite

Ethics gone wild 

In 2012, advocates of an initiated act on ethics in Arkansas initially put forward by the grassroots group Regnat Populus worked for months to interest national good government groups like Common Cause to invest in the effort to gain the signatures necessary to place the legislation on the ballot. If it had gotten there, all signs are that the initiative (ending corporate and union donations to Arkansas campaigns, employing the "Wal-Mart rule" to prevent lobbyists from providing gifts to legislators, and a two-year cooling-off period before outgoing legislators could be employed as a lobbyist) would have passed easily. Despite some last minute fundraising and spending by a bipartisan group working in tandem with Regnat Populus, the effort came up just short. As of last week, however, these national groups are finally engaged in an Arkansas initiative effort on ethics; unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, this new proposal is a thoroughly flawed one.

Since 2012, Paul Spencer, the Catholic High School civics and history teacher who got Regnat Populus off the ground, has not let up in his effort to lessen the influence of big money in the Arkansas political system. During the legislative session earlier this year, Spencer and fellow traveler David Couch worked with state Rep. Warwick Sabin to get an ethics package, overlapping to a large degree with the 2012 proposal, placed before the voters at the 2014 election. Some are upset that the constitutional amendment also includes components that would extend term limits and create a mechanism for raising elected officials' salaries necessitated to gain to votes of a sufficient number of legislators. Because of the need for both (decidedly less popular) reforms, I am actually hopeful that they can be pulled along by the "ethics" amendment. Decidedly more troubling in my eyes are other exceptions to the Wal-Mart rule allowing lobbyists to purchase meals for identifiable groups of legislators and permitting interests to cover the cost of elected officials' travel to conferences outside the state; their enshrinement in a constitutional amendment that would be difficult to alter in the future ratchets up that concern. Still, there is decidedly more good than bad in "The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Act."

Now Regnat Populus is back with an initiated act supported by Common Cause, Public Citizen, and other national groups who could not be lured to the state in 2012. In addition to very attractive (and unproblematic) rhetoric critiquing the 2009 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC and emphasizing that "corporations are not human beings," the initiative (now at the Attorney General's office for review) would prohibit all corporations doing business in Arkansas from making political contributions or expenditures in Arkansas elections. Going well beyond the ban on corporate contributions to candidates found in the proposed constitutional amendment, this new proposal has the promise to undermine legitimate involvement in the political process that is at the heart and soul of the First Amendment.

Imagine the following quite imaginable scenario: In the closing weeks of the gubernatorial campaign, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's political action fund decides to spend money on a direct mail campaign in Arkansas targeted at pro-choice voters educating them about Asa Hutchinson's opposition to reproductive choice. Under this incredibly broad initiative, that expenditure would not be allowed. This is because Planned Parenthood is a corporation, albeit a nonprofit one, incorporated in New York, that would be engaged in an expenditure "with the intention of influencing public perception of a clearly identifiable candidate" barred under the initiative. Similar groups would be denied from engaging in ballot issue campaigns including, ironically, this ethics proposal itself.

Progressives are divided between free speech purists who argue that any limitation on spending in politics is an intrusion into the First Amendment's promise of free speech and egalitarians who contend that some reasonable controls on spending is necessary to maintain some semblance of equality in the American electoral system. I veer in the egalitarian direction and, following the Supreme Court's truly radical decision in Citizens United with its devastating ramifications for the practice of democracy in the United States, have swerved even more sharply. Some controls on campaign spending, which is not pure speech, create a fairer system of governance. But, the possibility for deep intrusion into political expression found in the latest Regnat Populus effort just goes too far.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of...

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Jay Barth

  • Gun politics

    "You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you." Despite that promise by President Trump at the National Rifle Association's annual convention in April, the days ahead are going to produce challenges for the gun rights lobby.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • A failed experiment

    Many consequential news events — from local to international — are getting lost in this era of nonstop, overlapping "breaking news" stories regarding all things Donald Trump.
    • Jun 15, 2017
  • Press slammed

    Last week, the American media got another battering, in the form of a Montana congressional candidate's brutal attack on a young reporter simply doing his job.
    • Jun 1, 2017
  • More »

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated its 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Jay Barth

  • Gun politics

    "You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you." Despite that promise by President Trump at the National Rifle Association's annual convention in April, the days ahead are going to produce challenges for the gun rights lobby.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • A failed experiment

    Many consequential news events — from local to international — are getting lost in this era of nonstop, overlapping "breaking news" stories regarding all things Donald Trump.
    • Jun 15, 2017
  • Press slammed

    Last week, the American media got another battering, in the form of a Montana congressional candidate's brutal attack on a young reporter simply doing his job.
    • Jun 1, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.
  • Pay attention

    If anyone thinks that a crisis with the Power Ultra Lounge shooting, then he hasn't been paying attention to Little Rock.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Football for UA Little Rock

    • He's BSC. Students and tuition-paying parents should be VERY vocal that a football program won't…

    • on July 23, 2017
  • Re: Pay attention

    • I have attended community meetings about the recent spike in violence in LR, and police…

    • on July 22, 2017
  • Re: Pay attention

    • Adawson's comments attribute the plight of black people in the United States to the War…

    • on July 22, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation