In the wake of high-profile controversies involving Republican and Democratic elected officials, state lawmakers have been angling to reshape public opinion on ethics reform.
State legislative Democrats organized a “special committee” in late August to examine the subject led by several members of their caucus. Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock), who chairs the House freshmen caucus, invited other lawmakers to join the new effort.
“Arkansas Democrats remain committed to continuing the push for ethics reform and will work with anyone willing to stand with us,” he said at the time.
As the majority party, Republicans said they were already in the throes of ethics proposals.
House Majority Leader Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs) led the House Republican caucus in its efforts for more integrity and transparency in state government in the 2013 regular session. He said in late August his group’s policy committee was already studying potential changes in the wake of recent developments.
“The events of recent months have cast doubts among many Arkansans thanks to the ethical and legal issues involving elected officials in both the executive and legislative branches of government. The hardworking taxpayers of our state deserve better,” Westerman said. “House Republicans have been working on this issue and will continue to do so. We look forward to Democrats joining with us in a bipartisan effort because ethics reform, integrity and transparency in government should not be partisan issues.”
SPECIAL SESSION CONSIDERATION
A public school employee insurance crisis may result in a special session being called, which could give lawmakers an opportunity to ask Gov. Mike Beebe to include ethics changes to the call.
On Wednesday (Oct. 9), Rep. Sabin emailed a memo to House and Senate colleagues outlining 11 draft bills addressing potential ethics legislation.
The memo suggests that there could be “some bi-partisan consensus” to consider ethics legislation in the possible special session.
“In the interest of everyone’s time, I had some ethics legislation drafted that addresses the points that both parties identified in their recent pronouncements,” Sabin’s memo reads. “I want to emphasize that these are only first drafts. My intention was to distribute these drafts to everyone as quickly as possible so that you have sufficient time to respond and suggest changes.”
Sabin’s memo says he acknowledges some bills may not achieve broad enough support and that others may have ideas for additional legislation not proposed.
In all, the memo outlines 11 bills and provides copies of each measure to legislative members:
JAW358: Prohibits the use of campaign funds to purchase tickets to fundraising campaign events for other candidates.
JAW359: Requires that if more than one corporation is owned by the same majority owner, the corporations are treated as a single person for the purpose of limitations on contributions to campaigns.
JAW360: Requires the Arkansas Ethics Commission review the financial records submitted to it and investigate the possible violations they find.
JAW362: Reduces the minimum amount required for reporting expenditures from $100 to $50 for most reporting entities.
JAW363: Requires the Secretary of State’s office to create a website that presents certain financial record information in a searchable format and allows candidates and filing entities to file that information directly on the website. Also brings all filing entities under the same rules regarding how to file.
JAW364: Increases the criminal penalties for campaign finance violations based on value and repeat offenses and creates a grace period for correcting potential offenses.
JAW365: Codifies the rules regarding carryover funds.
JAW366: Creates and uses the grace period provision in JAW364 as a method of preventing a disciplinary hearing and additional fines, rather than as a criminal defense.
JAW367: Brings all of the political entities that have to file financial records under the same rules under current law.
JAW368: Requires quarterly reports be filed by any person holding carryover funds regardless of the amount in the account and specifies due dates and the information to be included within the reports.
JAW369: Makes a lobbyist with unpaid and delinquent fines ineligible to re-register as a lobbyist.
A spokesman for Governor Mike Beebe said the idea for ethics reform is “on the table for consideration” in a special session, but there would be a lot of caveats.
“If there was consensus on an ethics bill, the Governor would definitely consider adding it to the call if there is a special session if there is a consensus on the teacher insurance issue,” said Beebe spokesman Matt Decample.