A bill requiring political candidates in Arkansas who switch races to return the money they have already raised was temporarily pulled by the sponsor Tuesday (Feb. 9), partly because of concerns about its coinciding with Lt. Governor Tim Griffin’s announcement Monday that he was switching from the governor’s race to the attorney general’s.
Senate Bill 82 by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, would require candidates to return money to contributors within 30 days after the end of the month when they withdraw from a race, and they could not use that money to run for a different office.
Contributions would have to be returned based on a pro rata division of their remaining funds based on what has been collected and spent. Candidates who could not determine the source of a contribution would donate it to the state treasurer, a political party, a party caucus, a nonprofit, or a city or town.
Dismang argued before the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee that current law already requires candidates to return campaign donations when they withdraw from a race. The bill would clarify what happens when a candidate then enters another.
“We’re having a conversation about doing something that the law says we’re not supposed to do anyway,” he said.
Dismang advanced the bill the day after Griffin’s announcement. Griffin had raised $1.8 million for his gubernatorial bid and has offered to refund campaign donations for those who want it.
Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, asked why Dismang was moving forward now in light of Griffin’s announcement.
“My ‘no’ today is not going to be a ‘no’ because I don’t like it,” Ballinger said. “I do like it. My ‘no’ today is, I’m not ready to do it because I don’t know the effects on the current situation.”
Dismang said the bill had lingered for some time. The committee had already passed the bill Jan. 21, but Dismang added an amendment to clarify that it wouldn’t force candidates to issue refunds because of a change in district number due to redistricting.
He said the bill was not about any particular candidate and believes that current situations would be grandfathered in. Griffin has already switched races before the law would take effect. But, Ballinger said that’s not clearly the case.
Dismang said the law is needed in light of a court ruling removing the two-year limit for candidates to raise funds. The longer time period increases the possibility that candidates will drop out of races, Dismang said.
The committee also advanced Senate Bill 138 by Dismang, which would rewrite state law to comply with that court ruling.
Asked by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, whether any thought was given to allowing donors simply to transfer their donations to the new campaign, Dismang said current law doesn’t allow that and said it would be putting donors in a difficult position after having donated to another race.
Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, said she would prefer letting candidates keep the funds, arguing that donors are supporting the individual rather than their race for a particular office. Dismang said the contributions were made to a particular race.
“The question is – this is the fundamental question – who do those campaign contributions belong to? The candidate or the campaign?” he said.
Meanwhile, the committee endorsed Senate Bill 183 by Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, which would bar candidates from using campaign funds or carryover funds to pay a fine levied by the Arkansas Ethics Commission.
The committee advanced the bill on a voice vote after questions by Ballinger and Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, about the fines having disproportionate effects on candidates who are less wealthy. Ingram said officeholders are paid a salary and should take personal responsibility for their campaigns’ actions.