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Hit and run

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Hours before primary election day, an e-mail began circulating in the business community with an attached flyer urging people not to sign petitions for an initiated act to strengthen Arkansas ethics law.

Who sent it? So far, nobody's talking. It carried not even the name of an ad hoc committee, much less a person's name, phone number or e-mail address. Spokesmen for the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Poultry Federation and the National Federation of Independent Business — all lobbies that might look critically at a law to reduce corporate influence in politics — all disclaimed involvement.

A grassroots group, Regnat Populus 2012, crafted the proposal to end direct corporate contributions to candidates, as federal election law does. It also would end gifts to lawmakers by lobbyists or anyone else and impose a two-year waiting period for a lawmaker hoping to become a lobbyist.

A newer committee, Better Ethics Now, was formed to raise money to pay petition canvassers to get the 63,000 signatures necessary to put the proposal on the ballot. Its members include a bipartisan list of well-known political figures, including Dale Bumpers, John Paul Hammerschmidt and Jim Keet.

The flyer claimed the initiated act would limit the influence of "small business" on government and argued it would limit First Amendment freedoms. Says who? If the law makes the ballot, the backers of the surreptitious flyer will eventually have to identify themselves. The shape of the argument made on the flyer could be a tip to a coming court challenge.

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