AG Certifies ‘Far-Reaching’ Campaign Finance Ballot Measure

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 149 views 

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge Friday certified the popular name and ballot title of an act that would require the disclosure of sources of independent campaign expenditures and political advertisements. “Top funders” would be listed on television ads.

The Campaign Finance Act of 2016 was submitted by attorney David Couch after it originally had been submitted by Paul Spencer of the group Regnat Populus on May 28. It says its purpose is to create greater transparency and give Congress and the states the authority to limit campaign spending.

It says the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling “has opened the gate for a flood of new special interest money into Arkansas state elections, much of which is undisclosed and hidden from public view.”

Current campaign finance law allows donors to give unlimited amounts often anonymously to so-called super PACS, which can spend money to elect candidates as long as they don’t officially coordinate with them – a vague prohibition at best.

During the 2014 campaign, Rutledge appeared in a television ad funded by the Republican Attorneys General Association, a super PAC. She argued the ad was legal because it did not expressly advocate for her. An ethics challenge against her participation was unsuccessful.

The proposed act would expand the definition of “independent expenditure” to include expenditures for communications, not coordinated with a campaign, that effectively request a vote for or against a candidate even if not expressly doing so, as well as expenditures for communications regardless of whether or not they advocate for a candidate’s election if the expenditures occur within 60 days of the election.

The expanded definition of “independent expenditure” would result in greater transparency and less anonymity for donors in a variety of ways. The act would:

– Require donors who donate at least $2,000 in a calendar year for any independent expenditure to report their names, the amount of the payment and other information to the secretary of state or county clerk.

– Require recipients of at least $500 in contributions meant for independent expenditures to file reports with the secretary of state or county clerk.

– Require persons or committees that receive at least $500 in a calendar year meant for making independent expenditures to file additional reports with the secretary of state or county clerk for each aggregate expenditure of at least $2,000. The reports must be filed within 60 days of the election.

– Require persons to create a website identifying their 10 biggest contributors if they raise or spend at least $2,000 during a reporting period for independent expenditures communications or advertisements.

The act also would require independent political ads, including those made by mass mailings, video, television, radio, telephone and print, to include information about their top funders. Among the requirements: video advertisements must list top funders against a solid black background on the bottom third of the screen for at least five seconds in a 30-second ad.

The act also proposes a resolution calling upon the state’s congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment that would clarify the power of Congress and the states to set limits for campaign fundraising and spending and to distinguish between persons and artificial legal entities such as corporations, which could be prohibited from spending money to influence elections. The resolution would call on the General Assembly to ratify the amendment.

In her opinion, Rutledge outlined the requirements of the popular name and ballot title: that it not be misleading and partisan, that it must be impartial, and that it must be brief and concise.

Rutledge offered a “cautionary note” because of the ballot title’s “complexity and far-reaching effects.”

“You should be aware that according to my experience there is a direct correlation between the complexity of initiated measures and their susceptibility to a successful ballot-title challenge. Any ambiguity in the text of a measure could lead to a successful challenge,” the opinion said.