GOP Leader Rice Questions Ethics Reform Effort

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Former 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Keet and Democrat Brent Bumpers, visited Fort Smith on Tuesday (June 12) with a common goal, despite their political differences: ethics reform.

Their reform pitch was opposed by Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, who could become the next Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives if Republicans take control of the 100-member chamber this November.

From the Holiday Inn-City Center, Keet and Bumpers made a plea on behalf of the Better Ethics Now Committee for the Campaign Finance and Lobbying Reform Act of 2012, a proposed ballot initiative from Little Rock citizen Paul J. Spencer.

Spencer, a high school teacher of government and politics, initiated the effort, which prohibits gifts from lobbyists to legislators; adds one year to the waiting period (a proposed two years total) before a legislator can work as lobbyist; and prohibits direct contributions to candidates from corporations and labor unions.

Concerning corporate donations, Bumpers notes that companies could still give to “PACs (political action committees) and Super PACs,” but candidate donations would have to come from the individual and not the company.

Labor unions would operate under the same agreement, receiving allowance for the funding of PACs, but personalizing individual candidate donations separate from the organization.

Bumpers — son of former Arkansas Gov. and U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark. — initially supported the grassroots campaign, and realized quickly “with only two months to secure a little more than 62,000 signatures, we would need bipartisan support” to have the initiative added to the ballot in November.

Keet added that the process of petitioning to add a ballot initiative at the state level “generally takes four to six months.”

Bumpers and Keet said they now have “several cells canvassing for signatures throughout the state,” and there are “anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 signatures” with a first deadline looming on July 6.

From there, it could take an additional 10-30 days to review the validity of the signatures. During this period, the committee could continue to canvas for additional signatures. Once the percentage of effective signatures has been determined by the Secret

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ary of State in conjunction with the Attorney General's Office, an additional 30-day finalization period would begin.

“If we can make July 6, we’re home free,” Bumpers said.

Thus far, the proposed ballot initiative has won the support of Gov. Mike Beebe (D), former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D), Lisenne Rockefeller, widow of former Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller (R), and former U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, R-Harrison.

Despite reporting “close to 70% polling in favor of this (initiative),” according to Keet, Tuesday’s Q&A period was not without opposition.

Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, warned attendees against “overreaction,” stating “when we’re talking about cutting out corporate donations, every one of these is put online for you to see.”

“This (donations) is open and transparent. Do we need ethics reform? Yes, we do. But this (ballot initiative) was put together by some well-meaning people that didn’t get all the input they needed. This is all open now for you to see. We need ethics reform, but do we need this?” Rice said.

Keet admitted the ballot initiative isn’t perfect, stating that it “doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion,” but he advised to “never let perfect be the enemy of good.”

“What this does, is it sets the stage for more sweeping reforms,” he said.

Bumpers added that the initiative, if passed, would “take us from about 49th in the nation for statutes on ethics legislation limitations and move us to the top ten easy.”

Petitions in the Fort Smith region are available to sign at George’s Restaurant and the Party Place. Bumpers also announced that the committee would “pay 75 cents for each signature” to any parties interested in canvassing the state for support, adding “you could make $100 per day pretty easy.”

Keet emphasized that if the initiative fails to get the petition signatures it needs to go on the November ballot, “we will be very persistent about pursuing this legislatively; but for now, all our energies are focused to getting this on the ballot.”

Aric Mitchell with our content partner, The City Wire, is the author of this report. She can be reached by email at [email protected].

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