The addition of a term limits extension and a commission charged with deciding elected officials’ pay appears to have reversed public opinion on an ethics reform proposal.
The Arkansas legislature has referred a proposed constitutional amendment to voters in November 2014 that would alter ethics laws. The measure would also create a commission to evaluate the salaries of government officials and it would extend term limits for legislators to a total of 16 years in either chamber. Currently, Arkansas House members can serve three two-year terms (6 years) and Senators can serve two four-year terms (8 years) in total.
The proposal builds on a once-popular measure pushed by the Regnat Populus group that fell short of the necessary signatures in 2012 to reform state ethics laws. That measure would have disallowed 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.
When polled in March 2012, 69% of Arkansans supported the Regnat Populus proposal, while only 18% opposed it.
The expanded proposal from the legislature, which includes key elements of Regnat Populus, along with the term limits extension and committee to review elected officials’ pay is only supported by 32% of voters, while 50% are opposed.
“Legislators have already referred this proposed constitutional amendment to voters for next year and so it is not really subject to change,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business executive editor. “These numbers may encourage a purer straight ethics measure to be pursued.”
The question asked regarding the proposed ethics amendment reads as follows:
Q. The Arkansas legislature referred several constitutional amendments to the voters for consideration at the ballot box in 2014. One would ban gifts, meals, and trips provided to legislators by lobbyists except in limited circumstances and would also ban corporations from making contributions to Arkansas state candidates. In addition, it would allow legislators to serve up to 16 years and would create a commission to evaluate whether government officials’ salaries should be increased or decreased. If the election were held today, would you vote to approve or disapprove such a constitutional amendment?
18% Don’t Know
Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:
Perhaps the most surprising result in this survey was the challenges faced by the one constitutional amendment tested, one of three sent to the voters by the General Assembly earlier this year.
This amendment includes most elements of an initiative promoted by the group Regnat Populus in 2012; that effort came up short in its work to gain the sufficient number of signatures to place it before the state’s voters last year.
When polled in late March 2012, that proposal showed support among 69% of those surveyed.
As the result of a legislative compromise, most elements of the 2012 proposal were included in a constitutional amendment along with two other proposals—an extension of the state’s legislative term limits and a new mechanism for altering the salaries of the state’s elected officials.
This survey shows just how damaging those concepts are to the popular ethics provisions. Support among the state’s voters drops to only 32% with 50% opposing. While the proposal comes close to an even split with Democratic voters (it trails 41% to 42% with the rest undecided), it trails badly with all other political groups in the state. It loses badly across all other geographical and demographic groups which we examined.
This survey was conducted by Talk Business Research and Hendrix College on Tuesday, October 8, 2013. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/-4%, was completed using IVR survey technology among 603 Arkansas frequent voters statewide.
Approximately 25.7% of the voters in our sample were contacted via cell phone. This is in response to the increased reliance by voters on cell phones.
All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business and Hendrix College.