The contempt with which Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin shot down drafts of an amendment to protect the state Freedom of Information Act might not be the only factor propelling the issue to court, but it certainly has sped the process along.

On Thursday evening, an eclectic crew of Republican, Democratic and independent politicos, attorneys and journalists Zoomed in from across the state to give an update on their efforts to let voters decide what government information can be concealed and what must be disclosed.

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Griffin has already spiked multiple efforts to put FOIA protections on the ballot. It feels a lot like the attorney general is running out the clock, Bentonville attorney Jennifer Standerfer said. The longer Griffin takes to approve their proposed language, the less time the group will have to collect the tens of thousands of signatures they’ll need from registered voters across the state. Also, Griffin is being pretty snide about the whole thing.

“His decision on the constitutional amendment was written in a tone you don’t usually hear lawyers talk to each other,” Standerfer said, adding that she felt “scolded and insulted.”

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“It was a strong indication we’re probably not going to come to an agreement on that,” she said. “As an attorney who does litigation, I felt like he was saying, ‘So sue me.’”

His wish is expected to be granted pretty soon, attorney David Couch told the Arkansas Times earlier this week.

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Standerfer and Couch are among those behind Arkansas Citizens for Transparency, the group formed in the aftermath of the September special session that saw Gov. Sarah Sanders and her supporters in the state Legislature try to gut Arkansas’s longstanding government transparency law. Sanders and company weren’t wholly successful, but they were able to pass a law that lets the governor travel on the state dime without having to disclose where she’s going, why or with whom.

An unlikely team united against the common foe of government secrecy, Arkansas Citizens for Transparency also includes independent firebrand Nate Bell, conservative pedagogue Rob Steinbuch and Democratic state Sen. Clarke Tucker.

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Bell has said the members don’t agree on “much of anything except transparency” but their support for the issue transcends their disagreements.

The group is pitching both a constitutional amendment and an initiated act, designed to work in tandem to secure Arkansans’ access to government information. The amendment would enshrine a broad right to transparency and access in the Arkansas constitution, the highest law of the state. The initiated act would lay out more detailed changes in statute, rather than in the constitution.

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The group’s push to get government transparency on the ballot comes as another crucial right is under attack from the Legislature: the ability of Arkansans to propose ballot measures and place them before the state’s citizens for a vote.

For years, state Republican lawmakers have worked to make it harder for average Joes to take their ideas to fellow voters. Legislators have tried to boost the threshold for a ballot initiative to go into effect from a simple majority vote to 60%. That effort failed, but in 2023 lawmakers pushed through an egregious law that makes it much harder to collect the signatures required for a group to place an initiative on the ballot. The law is being challenged in court.

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“Some of us feel like we’re not just fighting for the right to know, but defending our ballot initiative and referendum rights,” Standerfer said on the Zoom call Thursday.

Griffin is stepping far outside his constitutional authority and attempting to dictate what the people can and cannot ask for, she said. And his most recent rejection of Arkansas Citizens for Transparency’s ballot title and summary suggests he’s not going to budge.

“There’s a general attitude that citizens don’t have a right to do this unless the attorney general likes what they’re doing,” Bell said.

Once Arkansas Citizens for Transparency fights their way past the attorney general’s gates, they’ll still have to collect tens of thousands of signatures. It’s an expensive and labor-intensive proposition. Bell estimated the cost to collect the 90,704 signatures needed to put the government transparency amendment on the ballot, and the 72,000-plus needed for the amended act, will run about $4 million.

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People wanting to donate can use Good Change, a nifty new app that lets people round up their purchases to the next dollar, with the difference going toward the cause they want to support.

What happens if Griffin’s office OKs the amendment language but not the language for the act? That is a real possibility, but it’s not going to fly, Standerfer said.

“It is really crucial to us that we get both the amendment and the act through. We have to get a right to government transparency in the constitution, period. We have to prevent the Legislature from gutting FOI.”