by Max Brantley
The state Ethics Commission today issued an advisory opinion about state official involvement in ballot initiatives. They may spend, but must report, expenditures of more than $500 in public money on "direct advocacy" -- a yes or no vote -- on ballot measures.
But general office overhead doesn't count.
Thus, an employe of Lt. Gov. Bill Halter can join him in traveling the state to talk about the proposed lottery without violating any ethics law and also not be required to file financial disclosure unless there's an expenditure of more than $500 on direct advocacy.
Sounds right ot me.
STATE OF ARKANSAS
OFFICE OF THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Statement on Ethics Commission Opinion
LITTLE ROCK (Aug. 15, 2008) - The Lieutenant Governor's Office is pleased with an advisory opinion unanimously approved today by the Arkansas Ethics Commission about what conditions or circumstances trigger a report under the Disclosure Act for Public Initiatives, Referenda, and Measures Referred to Voters.
"The Ethics Commission's formal opinion confirms what we have believed all along concerning our actions related to the scholarship lottery amendment," said Michael Cook, Chief of Staff to Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. "We have been methodically cautious in abiding by all relevant rules, regulations and laws, and have consistently sought guidance from the Ethics Commission regarding our work for this $100-million-a-year public policy initiative. We asked for this written opinion for even further clarification and we appreciate the commission's response. We believe it will be helpful for other state employees who engage in public policy work for their respective offices.
"We are not required to file reports with the Ethics Commission unless we expressly advocate passage as defined by this opinion."
The opinion states that the "trigger" for reporting is when a public servant expends public funds in excess of $500 for the purpose of "expressly advocating" for or against a ballot question. The opinion further states that "express advocacy which is subject to Arkansas' campaign finance laws requires explicit words urging action (i.e. "vote for" "vote against") in order to be constitutionally regulated by the State."
"Communication which falls short of urging action is unregulated political speech and not subject to the Disclosure Act," the opinion states.