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Eating crow on the 2014 ethics amendment

When early voting started last year, I posted a guide on the 5 constitutional amendments that were on the ballot. With a year to reflect on how the changes worked out in practice, I can't put into words how disappointed I am in the result on the ethics amendment. Here was my assessment last year:

Proposed Amendment No. 3 is really several issues in one. It contains much needed campaign finance reform, like prohibiting gifts from lobbyists and restricting legislators from becoming lobbyists for two years after elected service. It creates an independent commission to set salaries of elected constitutional officers (e.g., governor, legislators, secretary of state, judges, etc.). Finally, it extends term limits for the legislature. This amendment was a compromise between several different factions in the legislature. I voted yes because I think campaign finance reform was needed, and after speaking with legislators on both sides of the aisle, I think having legislators with additional institutional knowledge may be beneficial to the Legislature as a whole.

What wound up happening? The Arkansas Times ran periodic updates on how the prohibition on gifts from lobbyists was roundly ignored. Even officials who get caught turning in false ethics reports now have a 30-day window to file amended reports without punishment. There's no teeth to the ethics laws anymore. Anyone getting caught gets to say, "no harm, no foul."

The "independent commission" gave state officials huge pay raises — except for public defenders, who make (at best) about 60% of what prosecutors make. This exacerbates an already problematic access to justice issue in the state.

It's probably too early to say one way or the other what the long-term effects of the term limit extension will be. The pay raises given to legislators, however, mean that any individual legislator stands to earn far more during his or her time in office than before. Historically, Arkansas' legislature was inhabited by ordinary citizens — lawyers, doctors, farmers, etc. — not professional politicians. In my opinion, the result of the amendment is an ill-advised move towards a class of professional politicians.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disillusioned by the abuses of the ethics amendment.