Regnat Populus, the grassroots group formed to pass stronger public ethics law in Arkansas, announced today that it would resume collecting signatures for an initiated act to ban corporate contributions to campaigns, end gifts to public officials by lobbyists and lengthen the cooling-off period before a public official can become a lobbyist.
Much of the initiative is contained in a constitutional amendment approved for the 2014 ballot by the legislature. That measure also lengthens term limits and provides a mechanism to increase legislative pay.
A funny thing happened on the way to the ballot. The legislature screwed up. Unnoticed by most, a provision added to other legislation (Act 1413) by the drafter, the Friday Law Firm, transferred from the attorney general to the legislature the power to specify the popular name for proposed amendments. Amendments must have them. But …. the legislature failed to exercise its new power. It approved three proposed amendments without popular names. They include an amendment proposed for a Friday firm client, the Oaklawn Park racino in Hot Springs, to make it harder to gather petitions for initiated acts. Act 1413 had the same objective, making it harder to put initiatives on the ballot, as potential competitors for the state’s duopoly casinos, Oaklawn and Southland, have tried to do.
Regnat Populus, with help from the ACLU and the Arkansas Public Law Center, is challenging Act 1413 in court and a decision is pending.
But, in the meanwhile, the attorney general and the secretary of state have indicated reluctance to supply a popular name for the three amendments, given that it is specifically the legislature’s duty to do by law. There’s been some talk of an attempt at a legislative fix in the fiscal session.
If there’s not, NO amendment will reach the ballot. So, says Regnat Populus:
The very purpose of the referred Ethics Amendment was to reduce special interest meddling in Arkansas’ legislative affairs. Now that it is clear that the special interest-sponsored Act 1413 has in effect nullified the very ability of the Ethics Amendment to make it to the ballot, we now feel that our good faith efforts and collaboration with the legislature have been betrayed.
So now our resolved course of action becomes clear. Unless and until the General Assembly takes the action suggested by Attorney General McDaniel and creates a legal and certain fix to this problem with certifying popular names of referred amendments (instead of the Band-aid fix of the SoS rubber-stamping the Attorney General’s popular name with unclear authority), Regnat Populus intends to proceed with signature collection for our already approved Campaign Finance and Lobbying Act of 2014. In fact, we already have many signatures collected for this initiative from these legislators themselves at our initial canvassing event at the Capitol a year ago during the last session!
We will then proceed with an aggressive canvassing campaign to add to the legislators “kick-off” signatures from last year and place this measure before the people of Arkansas.
The words of Sir Winston Churchill to Parliament on the eve of the Second World War now come to mind. “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.”
UPDATE: A group that opposes Regnant Populus’ term limits amendment nonethless cheered the message the amendment without a popular title is flawed and said if Secretary of State Mark Martin tried to create a title of his own it would invite litigation
Said Tim Jacob of Arkansas Terms Limits:
“This has to be done as the law says, rather than by a consensus,” Jacob said. “Since the new 2013 law regarding ballot measures did not grant title-writing authority to any entity, the amendment is unfit to appear before the people of Arkansas. By law, it cannot run without a popular title.”