Ethics Reform: Put Up or Shut Up

by Jason Tolbert ([email protected]) 115 views 

Last week, my colleague Michael Cook called on Republicans to “put up or shut up” on voter ID laws.  He challenged supporters of laws requiring voters to show identification to vote to find cases of people committing fraud by voting in other people's names or shut up about the problem.

Okay, it's a fair point but what Cook is asking is a pretty tough deal to pull off. It seems it would require someone like James O'Keefe coming in to Arkansas with one of his undercover camera type of operations like he did in several other states.

Today, I am offering my own “put up or shut up” and what I am asking will be as simple for politicians as saying, “No, thanks.”

My column from Stephens Media this week looks at the ethics reform initiative a group is trying to get it on to the ballot in November by gathering over 62,000 signatures.  Their measure has three parts to it – two of which has a broad acceptance.

No one can really argue with a straight face against the benefits of requiring a two-year cooling off period for legislators before they turn around and lobby their former colleagues or against prohibiting legislators from accepting gifts from lobbyists. Those two are really no-brainers.

However, the third part of the plan that would prohibit campaign contributions to state candidates from basically everyone except an individual, a political party organization, or a political action committee is an item of debate.  Look no further than the financial statements of the proposal's supporters.

The purpose of this part of the proposal is to ban contributions from business and labor unions as the proponents of the measure believe these contributions have the “risk and appearance of corruption.” Transparency is lacking – they claim — as the ultimate source of the funds may be “undisclosed and untraceable.”

So here is my challenge – If you are one of the politicians that have come out in support of this measure, then put into practice the requirements of the measure in your own campaign.

If you are not willing to do this yourself and for your own campaign, then you don't really support the ethics reform proposal and are simply pandering for votes.

Perhaps the most glaring example of the hypocrisy of such a supporter is Democratic State Senate candidate Zac White, a lawyer from Heber Springs challenging GOP Sen. Missy Irvin this fall. White hopped on the bandwagon last week to support the measure.  As I explain in my column…

A look at White campaign finance reports shows he took a contribution not only from Brent Bumpers, who is one the chairs of the ethics reform campaign, but from a business that would be banned from contributing to his campaign if the measure passed. But here is the kicker. The contributing business is McMath Woods PA – a Little Rock law firm that is listed as the location by the ethics group’s website to pick up, drop off, and sign petitions. Democratic Party of Arkansas chairman and ethics reform supporter Will Bond also happens to be a partner at that firm.

If White and the other candidates who have come out in support of the Regnat Populus ethics measure truly believe what they say, they will return any contributions they have received from organizations prohibited by the proposal and refuse to accept any more in the future.  Otherwise, they don't really believe what they say.

UPDATE – The rapid response from White's defenders indicates this might be an issue with traction.  Wright tells his loyalists that it was a mistake.  He did not mean to take that check from the law firm partnership but meant to take it from a lawyer who is a partner at the firm instead.  White is displaying better than anyone possible ever could how silly this part of the proposal is.