An amended form of a bill by Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) to regulate “electioneering communications” passed out of the House State Agencies committee this afternoon.
Although the committee voted down HB 1425 this morning, State Agencies then met again in the afternoon, expunged the morning vote and passed the bill, which now heads to the House floor. Tucker said he thinks there was some confusion in the morning about what the bill would do, and said that the testimony of Ethics Commission Director Graham Sloan helped assure lawmakers that the amended form of HB 1425 was kosher.
The amended version, unfortunately, does only half of what the original bill would have done. To win passage, Tucker had to drop a section that would have required political radio and TV ad buyers who purchase over $5,000 in “electioneering” advertising to disclose their identities — just as donors to campaigns already do.
“Electioneering” means political advertising made by an entity nominally independent of a campaign 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. A number of states now regulate electioneering communications during campaign season because they recognize that even without “express advocacy” words, a politically motivated ad is a politically motivated ad.
So, the amended HB 1425 doesn’t require disclosure of electioneering expenditures. It does, however, close the loophole that made possible the “saltshaker ad” by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge last fall. Rutledge got away with actually appearing herself in a $300,000 TV commercial purchased by a group called the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA, but not claiming it as a campaign contribution.
She argued that it was somehow not a political ad for her campaign because it was bought by an independent group and because there was no “express advocacy.” Somehow, the Arkansas Ethics Commission agreed, despite the grotesque contortion of common sense required.
The portion of Tucker’s bill which survived would forbid such a practice by clarifying that a “coordinated communications” — meaning an ad made by another group, like RAGA, but in concert with a candidate, like Rutledge — must be treated as a contribution. It specifies that a coordinated communication must be claimed as “an in-kind contribution to the candidate or political party who or to the candidate or political party whose authorized committee or agent cooperated, consulted, requested, suggested, or acted in concert with.”
It remains a good bill, and it’s good the State Agencies committee — which contains its share of staunch conservatives — at least recognizes the simple absurdity behind allowing this loophole to stand. Better still would be to address the larger loophole created by electioneering communications more generally, but it looks like that won’t happen this session.
This item has been modified significantly since it was originally posted to reflect developments later in the day.