As I mentioned yesterday, the idea is not popular among legislators of either party — Republican Rep. Duncan Baird are Democratic Sen. David Johnson are notable and praiseworthy exceptions for open advocacy. It cuts lawmakers three ways — no more gifts from lobbyists or from anyone who works for an interest that hires a lobbyist (and existing gift restrictions make handouts worth more than $100 from others difficult). It ends corporate campaign contributions (see Bart Hester and Mike Akin, to name two Republicans, who've recently stacked up piles of corporate cash from the same source in flagrant disrespect for individual contribution limits.) It sets a two-year waiting period for a legislator to become a lobbyist. It thus could spoil some plans in the works for existing legislators who grandfathered themselves out of a one-year waiting period.
The Better Ethics Now Committee held a news conference this morning to roll out former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter as the latest high profile addition to the bipartisan committee supporting the effort. Some other interesting supporters also are in the pipeline.
Baker Kurrus, one of the leaders of the committee, also announced that Lisenne Rockefeller, widow of Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, was adding her support to the campaign, but she didn't attend the event.
Halter declined to talk about his political future, saying the event today was about ethics. He's a useful addition to this drive. Remember he brainstormed and raised the money for the successful amendment drive that created the Arkansas Lottery.
Halter could be a candidate for governor in 2014. Beebe is term limited. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is expected to seek the Democratic nomination. So I've naturally asked him how he feels about a stronger ethics law. My indications so far is that he shares the political establishment's aversion to this proposal. He had some deep corporate pockets who contributed in multiple ways to his past campaigns.
UPDATE: Statement from McDaniel:
Having long been a leader on ethics reform — with meaningful ethics reform bills as part of my legislative package in 2009 — I will of course vote for this initiated act if it is on the ballot this fall.
Here's the thing: I don't see how you lose with the public at large by championing a stronger ethics law and a reduction in corporate influence. Or am I missing something?
UPDATE: Just in, a statement from Arkansas Democratic Party Chair Will Bond in support of the measure. It follows. Do I hear a Republican second? Maybe not. Last session's Republican House Leader John Burris is grumbling about it. The GOP delegation is full of guys with no visible means of support who've made a living off inflated expense reimbursements and freebies. Some of them used their legislative welfare to catapult to higher office, so I can see his resistance. (He says it goes too far and needs exception for group luncheons and the like. I think any exception is an invitation to abuse, based on history.) Burris also complains that these ethics supporters didn't file anything. Well, Will Bond did, in 2007. It got nowhere. The only way to legislate better legislative ethics is to go to the people.
Let's call the roll of candidates. For or against? Stand and be counted.
UPDATE: Rep. Jim Nickels contributed at last night's fund-raiser.
UPDATE: Looks like Republican Party chair Doyle Webb is on board, too. Might I say that, as much as I deservedly pick at Webb for this and that, he was an (unsuccessful) ethics law champion when he served in the state Senate.
UPDATE: Tweet from Sen. Gene Jeffress, 4th (sorry had number wrong originally) District congress candidate: "Add Sen. Gene Jeffress to your list of supporters for Reg. Pop. The ppl of Ark. should come before money & politics!"
Quite a parade developed on Halter's announcement, don't you think? Here's the thing: Unless the latecomers join Halter in the ranks of petition gatherers, their conversions to good government advocates don't mean much in the short run. But, the broadening professions of support DO drive organized opposition underground. If the proposal makes the ballot — and time, signatures and money remain the only real issues at this minute — that's good.
WILL BOND STATEMENT
“As a state legislator, I worked to provide ethics legislation that was similar to aspects of the current ballot initiative. Our state has enacted some positive changes in recent years, but we can, and we must, do better in this regard in order to rebuild the public’s faith in the electoral process.”
“Personally, I am supportive of the ballot initiative and am excited by the grassroots support this initiative has gained. If the initiative makes the ballot, I will gladly provide my support to see it pass.”