Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, a Republican, said Thursday he questions the motives of those pushing a proposed ethics reform ballot initiative.
Speaking during the taping of The City Wire Show, Darr said he believes a possible $400 million Medicaid shortfall and other “bigger issues” should take priority rather than who buys who “a $40 steak dinner.”
The Better Ethics Now Committee is working to gather more than 62,000 valid voter signatures for the Campaign Finance and Lobbying Reform Act of 2012. The effort, spearheaded by Paul Spencer, a high school teacher of government and politics, has been endorsed by well-known former and current Democratic and Republican political leaders. Those supporting the initiative include Gov. Mike Beebe (D), former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D), Lisenne Rockefeller, widow of former Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller (R), former U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, R-Harrison, and former GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Keet.
If it makes the ballot and gains voter approval, the law would:
• Prohibit gifts from lobbyists to legislators;
• Add one year to the waiting period (a proposed two years total) before a legislator can work as lobbyist;
• Prohibit direct contributions to candidates from corporations and labor unions.
Concerning corporate donations, companies could still give to political action committees, but candidate donations would have to come from the individual and not the company.
Labor unions would operate under the same agreement, receiving allowance for the funding of PACs, but personalizing individual candidate donations separate from the organization.
Darr also said he thinks the effort is pushed by Democrats who “want to change the rules” now that Republicans may gain a majority in one or both chambers of the Arkansas Legislature. Further, he said it is odd that politicians now pushing for tougher ethics rules didn’t do so when they were in power.
Keet, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Gov. Mike Beebe in the 2010 election, disagreed with Darr’s opinions.
“Well first of all, this is a bipartisan and a nonpartisan issue. ... Frankly, I think this is an opportunity for the Republican Party to take the initiative and get behind ethics reform in this state,” Keet said.
As to the $40 steak, Keet said there is more involved than just a dollar figure.
“No one said a $40 steak would influence a legislators thinking. However, this reform initiative removes the appearance of any impropriety and allows individual issues to stand on their own merits rather than being potentially tainted by gifts or meals,” Keet said.
If the initiative doesn’t make the ballot, Keet said backers of the plan will not stop pushing for ethics reform.
“If we don’t (make the ballot), I can assure you this is only the beginning” of an ethics reform movement “that will be taken up on both sides of the aisle” during the upcoming legislative session, Keet said.
THE CITY WIRE SHOW
The City Wire Show, which appears Saturday and Sunday mornings in the two markets, will include a recap of major events, updates and details on ongoing issues, updates on newsmakers and discussion of arts & entertainment action.
The show, officially titled “5NEWS Presents: The City Wire,” will air Saturday mornings at 8 .m. on KXNW-TV 34, which is channel 20 for Cox cable customers in Northwest Arkansas and channel 8 for Cox cable customers in the Fort Smith area. The show will air Sunday mornings at 6 a.m. on KFSM-TV 5. The show will also air at 4 p.m., on June 17.
5NEWS Anchor Daren Bobb and The City Wire managing editor Michael Tilley are hosts for the show.