Ethics push gains bipartisan support

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 83 views 

Two legislative ethics champions agree that lengthening a waiting period for their peers to lobby and banning gifts to lawmakers are good public policy, but they disagree on changes to political contributions.

Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, and Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, appeared on Talk Business Sunday night (June 10) to discuss a proposed campaign and finance reform initiative angling for the November ballot. Both legislators worked on successful ethics reform in the 2011 General Assembly.

The Campaign Finance and Lobbying Reform Act of 2012 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 proposed act is in the process of collecting more than 62,000 voter signatures 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.

Elliott and Clemmer like the “cooling off” period extension to two years. They also agreed that a ban on gifts from lobbyists was a good idea.

“I like the ban on gifts to legislators. I think that’s a really good move,” said Elliott.

“Perhaps it will cure some of the negatives out there about legislators,” said Clemmer. “I really don’t think there’s a huge problem, but there’s always a question if someone is benefiting.”

Both women said if the ethics initiative doesn’t qualify for the November ballot this year, they expect some aspects of the measure will be pushed in the 2013 session.

“I fully had anticipated that we would go forward with more ethics proposals this coming year, so if it fails I think there will still be an effort to ramp up ethics reform,” said Clemmer.

On the subject of no campaign contributions from corporations or unions, Elliott and Clemmer thought it would have a detrimental effect.

“My concern is it’s not going to be all that meaningful to put a ban on corporations and labor unions if all they have to do is form a political action committee,” Clemmer said. “We don’t want to set up an environment so that only wealthy people can run for office. There’s always a down side to limiting donations.”

Elliott agreed and suggested that there should be a larger debate about public financing of political campaigns.

“I think for example we ought to have public financing and I think the public needs to rise up for that,” she said.