Regnat Populus, the citizens group whose efforts led to the passage of the so-called ethics amendment in 2014, and other groups will attempt to pass an initiated act requiring Arkansas independent political groups to disclose their donors and that would request that Congress advance a constitutional amendment allowing campaign finance limits.
The group may also try to fix a loophole in the ethics amendment that founder Paul Spencer said left him feeling “betrayed” by legislators.
The initiated act would let voters say if Arkansas should join the 16 other states that have passed similar resolutions asking for a constitutional amendment limiting campaign donations. Those resolutions have come in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing unlimited spending by corporations and unions. Congress and the states would have the ability to limit campaign donations, said John Bonifaz, founder of the national group Free Speech for People.
The act also would require the disclosure of donors to independent groups supporting candidates. The groups have mushroomed in recent years in the wake of the Citizens United ruling.
Supporters of the act have submitted four versions to the attorney general’s office. Spencer said Tuesday (May 19) after a rally that he is confident this latest one will be approved, and when that happens, his group will begin collecting signatures.
Spencer also said his group “has a few surprises up our sleeves” regarding a part of the ethics amendment widely skirted by legislators. In 2014, voters passed an amendment, produced by legislators in response to Regnat Populus’ efforts, that among other provisions prohibited the purchase of gifts for legislators by lobbyists.
However, the amendment included a section allowing lobbyists to buy gifts for legislative bodies. The intent, Spencer said, was a good-faith effort on his group’s part “so you could have this rule where a specific committee, a specific governmental body could participate with the lobbying community to learn more about their job.”
Instead, lobbyists commonly provided meals for the entire body and found other ways to bypass the law.
“I am irritated beyond polite usage of English language at this point in time when it comes to the exploitation of the loophole,” Spencer said. He later added, “I do feel that the spirit of that law was exploited, and I do feel entirely betrayed by the General Assembly.”
Spencer said his group was not ready to say how it would respond, but he added, “I feel a degree of responsibility for that, and I would really try to rectify that if at all possible.”
Among the other speakers were Bob Estes of the Arkansas Coalition for Peace and Justice, Rev. Stephen Copley of the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance, Arkansas AFL-CIO President Alan Hughes, 2014 legislative candidate Tyler Pearson, and representatives of the groups People for the American Way and Public Citizen.
Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, told the crowd of about 70 participants that he tried in the past legislative session to pass campaign disclosure legislation. He also tried to pass legislation that would have classified the coordination by a candidate with an outside group as an in-kind contribution to the candidate. The disclosure piece failed in a House Committee. The coordination piece passed the House but fell short on the Senate floor.
Rhana Bazzini, an 81-year-old activist who led a march across Florida from Sarasota to Tallahassee to protest current campaign finance laws, also spoke and led the group on a march from MacArthur Park to the Capitol.