Group to resume drive for ethics initiative


LITTLE ROCK — A good-government group that set aside its citizen initiative for ethics reform to back a proposal the Legislature referred to the general election ballot will renew efforts to get its own measure before voters, an organizer said Wednesday.

Leaders of the group Regnat Populus are leery of the effects of a new law that calls into question whether the ethics proposal or two other proposed constitutional amendments referred by the Legislature will even appear on the ballot.

Act 1413 of 2013, which requires paid canvassers to be registered with the state and to undergo state-prescribed training, included a short section that took the authority of writing popular names for ballot measures referred by lawmakers away from the attorney general’s office but did not stipulate who is required to write them.

No ballot measure can be put to voters without a popular name, and the secretary of state’s office is required by law to make ballot measures available to the public six months before the Nov. 4 general election, which is May 4. Legislators asked the attorney general and secretary of state’s office last week for suggestions on how to address the issue. They are to make recommends to a legislative panel scheduled to meet Jan. 23.

“If the Legislature can’t find a lasting, permanent legal solution to this problem that they’ve cause, we will be running our ethics bill,” Paul Spence, Regnat Populus co-chairman, said Wednesday.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel certified the name and ballot title of the group’s Campaign Finance and Lobbying Act about a year ago. The initiative would ban lobbyists from giving gifts to legislators, prohibit direct corporate and union contributions to candidates for public office and double the one-year “cooling-off” period that a lawmaker must wait after leaving office before becoming a lobbyist.

Spence said Wednesday organizers had begun early canvassing when they were approached by legislators during the 2013 regular session about merging the measure into a legislative proposal.

What emerged was a multifaceted constitutional amendment proposal that encompasses the Regnat Populus provisions and also would extend the maximum time a lawmaker can spend in office from 14 years to 16 and create a citizens commission to set the salaries of legislators, constitutional officers and judges.

“We hit upon a deal that we could both live with. We honored our end of the bargain. Now it looks like it may be time to start up again,” Spence said, adding the group would restart its drive with more resources and support than it had in 2012 when a similar ethics initiative fell short of the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot.

Meanwhile, Regnat Populus is challenging Act 1413 in Pulaski County Circuit Court, arguing that some of its provisions limiting signature gathering go beyond the state constitution, while a separate group — Arkansas Term Limits — has formed to oppose HJR 1009’s provision to extend legislators’ terms beyond the current limit of six years in the House and eight years in the Senate.