UPDATE: The bill failed on a voice vote, as expected. Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) said he was worried the bill would infringe on privacy rights and discourage political participation because donors might feel “threatened” if they knew their names would be disclosed. “The donors list will be made public, which leaves a lot of opportunity for people to go out and use a little intimidation,” Ballinger said.
Tucker pointed out that “it’s the same disclosure if someone contributes to a regular [political] campaign” or PAC. He noted that 25 other states and the federal government have similar requirements, many of which are construed more broadly than his bill. He said again and again that the intent of the bill is merely to close the loophole created by the “express advocacy” rule (see below). The loophole, Tucker said, “makes a mockery of the current structure” of campaign finance.
Ballinger and Dan Greenberg, who spoke against the bill, compared the measure to the state of Alabama’s efforts in the 1950s to compel the NAACP to release the names of its membership.
Tucker said he may amend the bill and try again before the session is out.
HB 1425, the bill by Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) to require reporting and disclosure of “electioneering communications,” is expected to come up for a vote in the House State Agencies committee today upon adjournment of the House. It faces a steep climb.
“Electioneering” means political advertising that avoids regulation by not using “express advocacy” words. If a political ad does not include narrow phrasings such as “vote for” or “vote against,” it is not considered a campaign ad by the state of Arkansas — even if the candidate herself appears in the advertising.
It’s a ridiculous loophole that effectively allows for unlimited campaign spending without the public ever being aware of who’s bankrolling the advertising. Outside groups — that is, political entities nominally independent of any campaign — spend vast sums of money on such advertisements during election season, yet the state requires no disclosure of their spending if they’re “only” buying electioneering ads without express advocacy. It’s a shell game.
Tucker’s bill would change that. It requires anyone making electioneering communications above $5,000 in a given calendar year to file a disclosure statement with the Secretary of State, just like a candidate or a campaign would have to do. This isn’t so much a left/right issue as a matter of simple transparency, in my opinion.
Here’s more information on electioneering communications and how they threaten the integrity of the elections process in Arkansas if left in the shadows.