Favorite

Real reform will come from people 

Just after the November election that placed Republicans in their strongest position in modern history, a flurry of discussion about enhancing Arkansas's mediocre state ethics laws ensued. Most promisingly, within days of the election, House Republican leader John Burris said his caucus planned to introduce a package of ethics bills. That would have been smart politics and good for government. But, any talk of ethics reform has faded as the focus has turned to the usual array of consequential (e.g., corrections reform) and trivial (e.g., changing the state's nickname) legislative items. A quick content search of the bills introduced in this session of the General Assembly shows that only the annual appropriations bill for the nine-employee Ethics Commission deals with governmental ethics. While ethics legislation may yet be introduced, there's clearly not the will to pass any legislation of consequence.

What might a strong ethics package to enhance public trust in the way state government does business include?

• Enliven Arkansas's quite strong disclosure provisions by requiring the use of modern search engines that would allow rank-and-file citizens to efficiently examine who gives money to candidates and how lobbyists spend their dollars.

• Elevate small donors' role in funding elections in the state by doubling the one genuinely progressive element of Arkansas's campaign finance laws—the $50 per year tax credit to offset individuals' campaign contributions to state and local candidates—and by barring giving by corporations.

• Create a public finance system for judicial races in Arkansas as Justice Robert Brown has proposed, eliminating the role of fund-raising among those who will have business before the courts. As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has warned, "the perception that justice is for sale will undermine the rule of law that courts are supposed to uphold."

• Stop the revolving door by banning legislators from lobbying their former colleagues for two years after leaving governmental service.

• Finally, and most importantly, adopt the so-called "Wal-Mart rule." Just as our state's most important company bars employees from accepting even a cup of coffee from prospective suppliers, the same should hold for the parallel relationship between lobbyists and government officials. Even without a lunch or dinner being provided, conscientious legislators will seek out lobbyists to gain the information they need to make wise decisions on legislation. And, the fine tradition of socializing between legislators and lobbyists will continue. But, when those events end, everyone at the table should have to pay for their own food and drink. In its purest form, lobbying is an important, constitutionally-protected practice, but the people regularly wonder whether impurity enters the scene when meals and gifts are provided to public servants.

It's safe to say that none of these measures will be passed by the General Assembly. But, the ethics reforms that have made a difference in Arkansas weren't passed by a legislature; those laws that are the foundation of the ethics system in Arkansas were passed by the people after being placed on the ballot by petition.

In 1988 and 1990, a coalition of citizen groups worked with then-Governor Clinton to bring Arkansas into what was the mainstream of ethics reform; in 1996, the tax credit was added through the initiative process. Before it's too late and a public scandal has rocked the state and the public's confidence in the system, it's time for this to happen again. With all three of the measures mentioned above having passed with well over 60 percent of the vote, history strongly suggests that Arkansas's voters want a government absent of real or perceived corruption. Let's give them that chance once again.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Jay Barth

  • Arkansas's GOP factions

    One clear takeaway from the 2017 legislative session is that, for the first time, stark factional divisions within the state's Republican Party are now shaping the winners and losers in Arkansas's public policy debates.
    • May 18, 2017
  • An ideological canyon

    If you're troubled by the political division in America, two surveys of our youngest adults released in the last week indicate you haven't seen anything yet.
    • May 4, 2017
  • Remembering Elaine

    Elaine's 1919 race massacre marked, probably, the deadliest event of racial violence in U.S. history.
    • Apr 20, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Schlafly's influence

    Phyllis Schlafly, mother, attorney and longtime antifeminist, died recently. What Schlafly promoted was not novel or new. Men had been saying that men and women were not equal for years. However, anti-feminism, anti-women language had much more power coming from a woman who professed to be looking out for the good of all women and families.
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Seven

    The controversy over the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol lawn just won't go away.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • Why a change of leadership at the LRSD now?

    Johnny Key's abrupt, unilateral decision to not renew Baker Kurrus' contract as superintendent strikes us as shortsighted, misguided and detrimental to the education of our children and the health of our community.
    • Apr 21, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • The health of a hospital

    The Medicaid expansion helped Baxter County Regional Medical Center survive and thrive, but a federal repeal bill threatens to imperil it and its patients.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • That modern mercantile: The bARn

    The bARn Mercantile — "the general store for the not so general," its slogan says — will open in the space formerly occupied by Ten Thousand Villages at 301A President Clinton Ave.

Latest in Guest Writer

  • Vote no on school tax

    I have never voted against a school tax in my life, but I will be voting against the debt service millage extension for the Little Rock School District.
    • May 4, 2017
  • Intracity tourism

    The issues that tug at my heartstrings are neighborhood stigma and neighborhood segregation, which are so prevalent in Little Rock. In my opinion, the solution to those problems is "intracity tourism."
    • Apr 27, 2017
  • Not justice

    The strongest, most enduring calls for the death penalty come from those who feel deeply the moral righteousness of "eye-for-an-eye" justice, or retribution. From the depths of pain and the heights of moral offense comes the cry, "The suffering you cause is the suffering you shall receive!" From the true moral insight that punishment should fit the crime, cool logic concludes, "Killers should be killed." Yet I say: retribution yes; death penalty no.
    • Apr 20, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Event Calendar

« »

May

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

  • Not leaders

    As soon as I saw the Notre Dame graduates walking out of their own commencement ceremony as Vice President Mike Pence began to speak, I thought, "Oh no, here we go again."

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • .... and having a beer with Gene Lyons, who gave the cutest clumsy curtsy before…

    • on May 27, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • Are you saying Karl Marx has left the building? The New York Times denies it…

    • on May 27, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • Yes, Lyon's thinks it is Fox Network that promotes the lies that the West has…

    • on May 26, 2017
 

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