AG candidate favors transparency laws for super PACs


LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas should require greater transparency of outside groups that try to influence state elections, a political candidate who was targeted by outside groups during a bruising primary contest said Wednesday.

Leslie Rutledge, Republican candidate for attorney general, told the Political Animals Club in Little Rock she would support legislation requiring outside groups that buy ads in Arkansas targeting candidates to disclose the names of their donors.

“I would like to see some legislation where, if you spend money in Arkansas and you mention a candidate by name, you have to report,” she said.

Rutledge said she does not plan to have a legislative agenda, but she said she hoped her remarks would encourage members of the next General Assembly to file legislation on the issue.

Rutledge, a Little Rock lawyer and former counsel of the Republican National Committee, will face Democratic state Rep. Nate Steel, a Nashville lawyer, and Libertarian candidate Aaron Cash, a Springdale lawyer, in the Nov. 4 election. They are vying to succeed Democrat Dustin McDaniel, who is prevented by term limits from seeking a third term.

Steel is scheduled to speak the Political Animals Club next month.

During the race for the GOP nomination — which Rutledge won by surviving a three-way primary with David Sterling and Patricia Nation and then defeating Sterling in a runoff — Rutledge was targeted by the groups American Future Fund and Judicial Crisis Network, which paid for television ads criticizing Rutledge for not advocating a “Stand Your Ground” law.

As independent expenditure committees, also known as “super PACs,” the groups were not required by federal or state law to disclose their donors.

Asked if she would denounce any outside groups that may run ads attacking her Democrat opponent without disclosing donors, Rutledge said, “If they are dishonest ads, then absolutely.”

As she has throughout the campaign, Rutledge pledged to “combat an overreaching federal government.”

She said she would be willing to file lawsuits or friend-of-the-court briefs opposing things such as burdensome environmental and banking regulations and intrusions on religious freedom. As an example of the latter she cited the Hobby Lobby case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that closely held corporations do not have to provide coverage for employees’ birth control if they have religious objections to doing so.

“Our businesses should have the ability to not have their religious liberties, our business owners’, threatened by the federal government,” Rutledge said.

Rutledge also said she supports enhancing the Cyber Crimes Unit at the attorney general’s office to go after Internet predators and said that “we need to have more drug courts.”

“Get those folks, before they become violent offenders, get them working with judges, working with faith-based programs, so that way we can turn someone (facing) one charge of possession of marijuana, instead of becoming a permanent resident in (the state prison at) Grady, we need to make them a permanent, productive citizen of Arkansas, and we can do that with expanded drug courts,” she said.

Talking to reporters later, Rutledge said she did not plan to ask the Legislature for more funding for the Cyber Crimes Unit but would look at allocating funds differently within the attorney general’s office.

She said expanding drug courts would be a matter of reaching out to judges around the state and encouraging them to start programs.

“That’ll be a legislative or a gubernatorial decision to make sure that funding is available,” she said.