Arkansas ethics reform group gains momentum

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 103 views 

Regnat Populus, a grassroots group pushing a ballot measure to reform Arkansas’ ethics laws, just got a shot in the arm from a bipartisan group of politicos.

On Friday (May 11), Better Ethics Now announced its formation. The group is a bipartisan association of political activists who could help the potential measure raise money and increase its visibility as it drives for ballot access in November.

The Campaign Finance and Lobbying Reform Act of 2012, which would be listed as Initiated Act 1 if it qualifies for the ballot, is a citizens’ initiative aiming to alter campaign finance and lobbying laws in the state.

It would disallow direct corporate and union contributions to state political campaigns and lengthen the “cooling-off” period that legislators must wait after leaving office before they return as lobbyists from 1 year to 2 years. It would also ban any gifts by lobbyists to legislators, sometimes called “the Walmart rule” referring to the company’s strict policy of banning as much as a cup of coffee to be bought for an elected official.

The measure is pursuing collection of at least 62,507 valid voter signatures by July 6 in an effort to qualify for the November ballot.

In a Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll released in early April, 69% of Arkansas voters said they would support the ethics and lobbying reform measure. Only 18% said they opposed the initiative and 13% were undecided.

Better Ethics Now announced Friday that former GOP gubernatorial nominee Jim Keet, Rockefeller confidante Baker Kurrus and Democratic activist Brent Bumpers, son of former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., would team up to help push the proposal.  Former Sen. Bumpers and retired U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, R-Harrison, have also lent their names to the cause.

“This ethics reform initiative will help restore voter confidence in state government while decreasing the inappropriate influence of special interest groups,” Keet said. “This is not a Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal issue. It is a good government issue.”

“Big money, whether from special interests, lobbyists or otherwise has always had the potential to be a corrupting influence on the democratic process. This is an issue I have felt strongly about for years,” said Bumpers. “The strength of democracy must derive from the votes of the people, not gifts from lobbyists or corporate campaign contributions. This ballot initiative addresses both of these concerns. When an issue brings together a diverse and bipartisan group like the one we have assembled, as well as others working to pass Initiated Act One, I think the importance of the issue speaks for itself.”

“I have worked in politics most of my life,” said Kurrus, a Little Rock school board member. “I have worked on both sides of the aisle and I have seen the good and bad in politics. This initiative works to promote the good in law-making and to take away the bad in it. In today’s political climate, it is not often that you can get a broad and diverse group of people like this to agree on anything.  However, this is an issue that we all can agree is for the best interest of everyone, no matter where you are coming from.”

Better Ethics Now says it plans to hold a press conference early next week to discuss its efforts in greater detail.