LITTLE ROCK — A state legislator advocating ethics reform circulated a package of proposals at the state Capitol on Wednesday that he wants to see added to the agenda if a special session is called to address public school employees’ health insurance rates.
However, the House leader appeared to dash any hopes of lawmakers considering ethics measures in a special session on teacher insurance.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” House Speaker Davy Carter said Tuesday after a lengthy meeting with other legislative leaders and Gov. Mike Beebe on the insurance issue. “There’s bipartisan support for some ethics reform. I just don’t think this is the right time to do it. We’re so close to getting into a fiscal session.”
The Legislature’s regular budget session convenes in February. However, taking up anything other than fiscal matters in a budget session requires a supermajority vote of the House and Senate.
Some legislators have been looking at ethics changes in the wake of recent high-profile cases involving elected officials’ use of campaign finances.
Former state Sen. Paul Bookout of Jonesboro resigned his seat in August after the state Ethics Commission reprimanded the veteran lawmaker and fined him $8,000, the maximum penalty under the law, after concluding he spent thousands of dollars from his unopposed 2012 re-election campaign for personal use. A special prosecutor is conducting a criminal investigation of Bookout’s campaign finances.
The Ethics Commission is currently investigating allegations of campaign finance violations against Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr.
The complaint by liberal blogger Matt Campbell alleges Darr improperly spent thousands of dollars of campaign money after his November 2010 election on purposes other than debt reduction, including hotel rooms, airline tickets, flowers, fuel, clothing, Razorback season tickets and meals at restaurants.
Darr has filed an ethics complaint against himself and has said he is working to bring his filings into compliance with state law. He dropped out of the 4th District congressional race and has not said whether he will seek re-election next year.
In a letter to lawmakers, Rep. Warwick Sabin outlined 11 draft proposals for ethics reform legislation.
“My intention was to distribute these drafts to everyone as quickly as possible so that you have sufficient time to respond and suggest changes,” Sabin wrote.
“Furthermore, I understand that some of these bills may not achieve the broad support necessary to earn consideration during a special session, but I thought it would be beneficial to put everything in front of you and see where it all goes,” Sabin said. “Some of you may have ideas for additional legislation not included here.”
Two of the 11 proposals are identical to measures Sabin and Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, proposed during the regular legislative session earlier this year but were unable to get out of a Senate committee.
One would prohibit candidates from using campaign contributions to buy tickets to other candidates’ fundraisers. The other would prohibit someone who is a majority owner of two or more corporations from giving multiple campaign contributions, one from each corporation, to a single candidate.
Other proposals among the package Sabin circulated Wednesday would:
—Require the state Ethics Commission to review the financial records submitted to the panel and investigate any possible violations they might find.
—Reduce the minimum amount required for reporting expenditures from $100 to $50.
—Require the Secretary of State’s office to create a website that presents certain financial records in a searchable format and allow candidates and others to file their information directly on the website.
—Increase the criminal penalties for campaign finance violations based on value and repeat offenses, and create a grace period for correcting potential offenses.
—Codify the rules regarding carryover funds.
—Create and use the grace provision as a method of preventing a disciplinary hearing and additional fines, rather than as a criminal defense.
—Bring all of the political entities that have to file financial records under the same rules under current law.
—Require quarterly reports be filed by people holding carryover funds regardless of the amount in the account and specify due dates and the information to be included within the reports.
—Make a lobbyist with unpaid and delinquent fines ineligible fo re-register as a lobbyist.