Amid the thrill of victory and agony of defeat this Election Day, Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment that will have a major impact on those involved in the political and legislative process there. While enacting legislation and regulations may bring some additional clarity to the issues, the amendment is effective immediately and brings the following changes:
- Corporations and labor unions may not make candidate contributions (but may still give to state-registered PACs).
- Lobbyists are prohibited from giving gifts to lawmakers under a new “no cup of coffee rule”—so named because there is no allowance for gifts of nominal value, so even a cup of coffee would be a prohibited gift. The amendment prohibits all gifts from lobbyists and lobbyist employers to the Governor, other statewide elected officials, and members of the General Assembly.
- Note, however, that certain items are not gifts and are not subject to this ban. Exceptions include informational material, gifts from family members, planned events open to all members of a specific government body, travel to some conferences, campaign contributions, and inheritances.
- Former members of the General Assembly may not become lobbyists until they have been out of office for a two year “cooling off” period.
- A new “independent citizens commission” will set the salaries for statewide elected officials, General Assembly members, and judges.
- Term limits for legislators are extended to sixteen years.
We can already anticipate a few effects of this amendment. PACs will become a much more important feature of the Arkansas campaign finance landscape. Corporations and unions may decide to make more independent expenditures to support candidates, or to direct more of their spending to groups that are not subject to the contribution ban. Arkansas could also see a rise in “unlobbyists” who legally avoid registration and thus could give gifts or evade the cooling off period. We will continue to monitor developments in the General Assembly and Arkansas Ethics Commission to see how these laws develop over time.