AG mishandled ethics proposal, attorney claims

Complaint filed with court

A Little Rock attorney has accused the state's attorney general of not following the law or her official duties in her rejection of a proposed constitutional amendment that would change some laws on ethics and campaign finance.

On Friday, David Couch filed a complaint with the Arkansas Supreme Court asking that the court issue a preliminary injunction requiring Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to approve his proposed ballot language or offer an alternative because any further delay could cause "irreparable" harm to his effort in getting the measure on the ballot. All initiatives face deadlines for publishing the proposals and submitting signatures.

A spokesman for Rutledge said she is reviewing the complaint and would respond when appropriate.

Couch has three times gone to Rutledge's office for approval of the name and ballot title of his proposal.

So far, Rutledge has refused to approve the language, which is required by law before Couch can begin collecting the 84,859 valid signatures needed to get the proposal to voters this election. The signatures must be filed by July 8 with the secretary of state.

Couch's proposal would, among other things, prohibit gifts of food and drink to elected officials from lobbyists, prohibit corporate contributions to political action committees, and lower the maximum campaign contribution from $2,700 to $1,500.

On April 27, Couch last submitted a version that incorporated changes to the name as suggested by Rutledge's office.

In his complaint to the high court, Couch notes that Rutledge did not respond until 14 days later, when she substituted the proposal's name but did not provide a substitution for the ballot title. Couch contends that state law requires a response within 10 days and not, as Rutledge noted in her response, in 10 business days.

Rutledge's May 11 response to Couch stated that she can refuse a ballot title's language if it is confusing or fails to give voters a "full understanding" of how the proposed measure would affect existing law. She wrote that his proposed ballot title would "likely mislead voters because it uses standard campaign-finance jargon in unusual ways without highlighting this fact for the voter."

Couch told the Supreme Court that his proposed language is "honest and impartial" and that Rutledge should have approved the language or offered a substitute.

"The Attorney General in refusing to substitute a more suitable and correct ballot title stated, '(w)hile I can modify a proposed ballot title to render it a more accurate summary of the measure, I am not authorized to craft a ballot title that amounts to an independent product,'" Couch wrote the court. "The Attorney General is incorrect in that assertion. In fact, not only is she authorized to do so, she is required by [state law] to do so."

Couch notes that he is required to publish a version of his measure in a statewide paper by June 8.

"Time is of the essence," Couch wrote. "The Petitioner will be irreparably harmed by not being able to publish the measure on or before June 8, 2016 and will not have adequate time to collect the required number of signatures of registered voters."

Metro on 05/14/2016