An advisory opinion issued by the Arkansas Ethics Commission this morning said that gas companies must report money spent to defeat a ballot initiative, such as a proposed severance tax increase. The ruling hinged on a liberal interpretation of the term "individual person'." State law only explicitly requires that ballot committees, individual persons, public servants and governmental bodies report expenditures. The Commission ruled that laws enacted for the public benefit -- such as this one -- are to be interpreted most favorably to the public. As full disclosure is in the public interest, corporations should fall under the classification of individual persons and be required to report.
The Ethics Commission ruling was in response to a request from Sheffield Nelson, who is leading the effort to increase the state's natural gas severance tax through a ballot initiative.
Chesapeake, one of the major gas players in Arkansas, responded. "Chesapeake follows both the letter and the spirit of the law in all business practices," said Tom Price Jr., senior vice president, corporate development. Chesapeake did not directly answer whether it would fight the commission's ruling in court. Southwestern Energy hasn't responded to a call for comment.