by Max Brantley
The Regnat Populus 2012 campaign to strengthen Arkansas ethics law is built on the idealism and energy of a relative handful of people who believe politics in Arkansas would be cleaner and more responsive if the playing field tilted less toward corporations.
But it has only until July to gather 63,000 signatures. That's a daunting, likely impossible task for an initated act approved as to form only about a month ago.
Some sympathizers have been meeting quietly about raising money to help get the job done with paid signature gatherers. Some of the idealists behind the idea would rather do it all with volunteer labor. Some of the more practical supporters of the drive realize a golden opportunity will be squandered without money to put this measure before voters.
The proposal would impose a two-year cooling-off period for legislators to become lobbyists; it would end wining, dining and other gifts to legislators; it would end corporate contributions direct to candidates (see the Crossland/Oelke-financed Senate candidate in Northwest Arkansas for how this corporate loophole is abused through multiple entities.)
I've gone and buried the lede. The news:
Their news release here. Some quotes:
Former State Senator and Republican Nominee for Governor, Jim Keet said “This ethics reform initiative will help restore voter confidence in state government while decreasing the inappropriate influence of special interest groups. This is not a republican or democrat, conservative or liberal issue. It is a good government issue.”
Brent Bumpers said “Big money, whether from special interests, lobbyists or otherwise has always had the potential to be a corrupting influence on the democratic process. This is an issue I have felt strongly about for years. The strength of Democracy must derive from the votes of the people, not gifts from lobbyists or corporate campaign contributions. This ballot initiative addresses both of these concerns. When an issue brings together a diverse and bipartisan group like the one we have assembled, as well as others working to pass Initiated Act I, I think the importance of the issue speaks for itself.”
Baker Kurrus said “I have worked in politics most of my life. I have worked on both sides of the aisle and I have seen the good and bad in politics. This initiative works to promote the good in law making and to take away the bad in it. In today’s political climate it is not often that you can get a broad and diverse group of people like this to agree on anything. However, this is an issue that we all can agree is for the best interest of everyone, no matter where you are coming from.”
Amen, amen and amen. The men say they are committed to raising "enough money to make sure we get the signatures we need to get this initiative on the ballot." They'll be working with Regnat Populus and more announcements are planned. The committee hasn't yet filed a report on initial fund-raising.
How much is enough? In one discussion, I heard the figure $200,000 mentioned. Professional canvassing firms will charge $2 to $3 per signature and it's always best to gather more than the minimum. Regnat Populus had raised only about $1,500 at last report (and that wasn't counting the $250 I sent them), but its volunteers have been gathering signatures, with help of Occupy Little Rock and others. If ballot qualified, the measure also will require a supporting campaign, though polls indicate the idea has broad support. (Except maybe among the corporate players whose petty gratuities pay them big dividends.)
Brent Bumpers tells me the group already has commitments for $100,000 and feels like it can raise $200,000, which would make it "very likely" the drive would be successful. If they can raise "$250,000 and up, that seals the deal," he said.
The initial organizational paperwork, not yet at the Ethics Commission, will identify a dozen or so additional original supporters. They include, Brent Bumpers tells me, former Sen. Bumpers himself and former Republican U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt.
UPDATE: The original committee members are John Adams (2nd District congressional candidate in 2010); former state Sen. Jim Argue, Hank Bates, Sen. Bumpers, Paul Byrd, David Couch, Beth Coulson, Nate Coulter (former lt. gov. nominee and U.S. Senate candidate), Bob Edwards, Stephen Engstrom, Hammerschmidt, former state Rep. Sam Ledbetter, Richard Mason, Walter May, Bruce McMath, former Sen. John Riggs, Library Director Bobby Roberts and Stephanie Spencer.
"We've been busting our asses the last 10 days," Bumpers said. "If we can pull this off, it will be quite a feat. We should have been doing this in January not May."
PS — Sorry, couldn't find a photo of Brent Bumpers right off hand. He's a handsome fellow; looks a lot like his dad. UPDATE: Just got a snapshot of Bumpers.
ALSO: Regnat Populus issued the following statement:
Regnat Populus 2012 is pleased to announce the formation of the “Ethics Now” Ballot Question Committee to work alongside our current volunteer canvassing effort to ensure that this important initiative gets on the ballot in November for the citizens of Arkansas to decide. We are particularly pleased with the bipartisan nature of this effort, proving that governance that represents the interests of its citizens first and foremost is a principle that belongs to no political party, but to the American people. This initiative will have profound effects on the legislative climate in Arkansas for years to come, placing the interests of every-day Arkansans on an even playing field with established political interests that have traditionally held significantly more influence in legislation. With the support of “Ethics Now”, “The People Rule” will have the opportunity to be more than just a motto in Arkansas.
Stephanie Spencer said "We are very excited that this important initiative will not only move forward decisively now, but also welcome a statewide conversation about the role that voters should play not only in election campaigns but in governance as well".
Regnat Populus is the state motto of Arkansas and means “the people rule”. Our website is www.regnatpopulus2012.com . Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/RegnatPopulus2012