A package of campaign finance reforms had broad support in a poll conducted in March, according to numbers supplied to Talk Business & Politics by the reforms’ leading backer.
In a survey of 500 likely Arkansas voters conducted March 10-16, 77% of respondents said the role of campaign money is a problem, according to Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. The poll found that 88% of Democrats, 73% of independents, and 71% of Republicans agree campaign money is a problem, and more than 40% say it is a major problem. The poll was funded by the Washington, D.C., organization Every Voice.
Seventy-four percent of respondents would favor a combined package of reforms, including transparency, disclosure, lobbyist rules and enforcement. Of that, 49% would strongly favor it, versus 15% who would oppose it, including 8% who strongly oppose. Such a package would have the support of 81% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 74% of Republicans.
In a report provided to Talk Business by attorney David Couch, the survey found that voters believe such reforms would make the system fairer and that the rich and powerful currently buy elections.
Couch is leading a group that will be called Accountable Arkansas that is attempting to place a campaign finance package on the ballot. The proposed amendment includes the following measures.
• It prohibits statewide elected officials, legislators, elected judges, prosecutors and others from accepting food and drinks at a planned activity or accepting travel reimbursements to conferences. It also removes the Legislature’s ability to amend that part of the law.
• It prohibits political action committees that accept corporate contributions from making contributions to candidates.
• It requires independent expenditure groups to disclose donors, with those groups placed under the jurisdiction of the Arkansas Ethics Commission. Opponents say these so-called “dark money” groups are spending large amounts of money to support or oppose candidates without making the funders known.
• It reduces maximum campaign donations from $2,700 to $1,500.
Couch said the effort is meant to address the increased use of “dark money” as well as the unintended results of an ethics amendment passed by voters in 2014. That amendment, among other items, banned most gifts to legislators by lobbyists but led to the widespread use of so-called “planned events” where large numbers of legislators are invited.
“Maybe in 2018, we’ll have another proposed constitutional amendment,” Couch half-joked in an interview. “It’s kind of like a little kid trying to stick a hole in the dike. If there’s a leak, we’ll keep trying to plug it. That’s all we can do.”
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has approved a version of the amendment’s popular name but has twice rejected the ballot title, saying in a response May 11 that the title does not adequately explain how the proposal would significantly expand the definition of an “independent expenditure.”
Couch last week sued Rutledge’s office in the Arkansas Supreme Court, saying that under the law she is required to either approve the ballot title or substitute one of her own. In her court filing response, Rutledge said she is not required to offer a substitution if the title is misleading.
Couch said in an interview that he cannot circulate petitions without a ballot title.