As expected, the House of Representatives today handily defeated a bill to shine more light on the dark money spent in races for state Court of Appeals and Arkansas Supreme Court.
The vote was 29-50 with five voting present, indicating at least a tiny smattering of Republican support.
The sponsor, Rep. Andrew Collins (D-Little Rock) said dark money sources had spent $3 million to influence these judicial races since 2014 while actual candidates had spent only $1 million. The advertising is often misleading.
Collins said the bill had been rewritten since an effort two years ago to meet objections of the Ethics Commission and the conservative Family Council. It requires disclosure only by groups specifically targeting candidates by name or image and requires only donations of $250 or more. It also covers only money donated specifically for such races, not money given to a nonprofit group for general purposes.
Collins said the bill was needed for “clean, transparent” judicial elections. He argued it would be good for conservatives. “You way you find out ideological leanings in non-partisan races is follow the money,” he said. He said public trust in the judiciary had been shaken by the influence of “toxic” dark money.
Rep. David Ray (R-Maumelle) spoke against the bill, depicting it as an invasion of donors’ privacy. Ray is a former employee of the Koch political organization, a dark money group that has spent heavily to elect candidates of its ideological bent. He said the standard for disclosure was too hazy and would “regulate free speech in a way it’s never been regulated before.” Collins countered that many states have adopted such rules and that the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates on corporate spending specifically said disclosure of money sources was a good antidote to ill influence.