Group seeks state ban on corporate political contributions

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 123 views 

Corporate money flowing into Arkansas campaigns may become a thing of the past if one group has its way.

The group Regnat Populus has begun the work to collect the over 63,000 signatures needed to get their ballot question on the Nov. 2014 ballot.

According to Regnat Populus co-chair Paul Spencer, the group's goal is to severely limit the flow of money from non-human entities into Arkansas political campaigns.

"The initiative itself, it will place restricts on corporate contributions to political campaigns (by businesses) either chartered in the state or chartered out of state but doing business in Arkansas," he said.

Businesses may now donate the same amount as an individual to a campaign – $2,000 per election cycle. In a typical election, that would allow $2,000 for the primary, $2,000 for a run-off and another $2,000 for the general election for a total of $6,000.

In addition to restricting the flow of money, the group – working with the groups Common Cause, Free Speech for People and Public Citizen – are also calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which essentially said corporations have the same free speech rights as people.

"If we are wanting to give the voters of Arkansas fair footing and an equal playing field, we each have one vote that we can exercise," Spencer explained. "It seems rather contradictory that the Supreme Court could bestow human characteristics on non-human entities."

Asked how a group from Arkansas could stand against a ruling of the Supreme Court, Spencer said he is hopeful the Court will moderate their stand on the issue as time goes on, referring to rulings made by the Supreme Court from the days of slavery up through the civil rights movement that he said showed moderation, even if just by an inch at a time.

"The way that we're going about this, we're not saying that any individual human being is being deprived of their free speech rights. We're saying the state can restrict unfettered campaign funding. The Supreme Court has looked at some of these (campaign finance) cases that have been coming down the track. We think that if the Supreme Court were to revisit this, we don't think they'd strike it down. And we're not going to shy away from a Supreme Court fight."

But for a group attempting to restrict the flow of corporate financing in campaigns, how are they funded?

"We're going to start soliciting funds as soon as the Attorney General approves the ballot question title. When we ran our 2012 title (dealing with ethics reform), we (declined to accept) direct corporate contributions to candidates, the same as federal election laws. We took donations (from several bi-partisan groups). Better Ethics Now, they raised a lot of money. …Ultimately we would like individual donors. We've never taken corporate donations – ever. We have no plans of taking any corporate money for this."

Groups contacted said they were undecided so far.

Andrew Parker, director of governmental affairs at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, said a decision by the Chamber on whether to support or oppose the measure would be made at a later time as more information about the ballot initiative becomes available.

Executive Director Laura Hawkins of the Arkansas Society of Professional Lobbyists, said her group had no official position yet, either.

"We have not taken a position, but we will abide by whatever the people want to do. We, of course, are aware of it. They are discussing the proposed initiative but we haven't taken a position yet," she said.

Hawkins added that while she represents professional lobbyists, the Association typically does not inject itself into specific ballot issues.

"Historically, we have just gone with whatever the people of the state have wanted to do. We try to follow rules and regulations that people have voted for. That's how the democratic process works."

Spencer said the group has until July 7, 2014, to collect the signatures of 63,507 registered Arkansas voters.