The "ethics bill," as it was originally called, came out of proposals offered by a citizens group called Regnat Populus which had emerged from the deflating Occupy Little Rock phenomenon in 2011. The ostensible idea was to reduce corporate influence on legislators decisions with some mild reforms regulating lobbyist gifts and direct corporate contributions.
Ordinarily, the plan would have had to qualify for the ballot via petition. But helpful legislators offered to refer it to the ballot for them sans signatures -- for a price. That price was a plank to gut Arkansas popular voter-approved term limits law. The provision, buried on page 16 of the final bill and not included in the ballot title (!!!), would change the House term limit from 6 to 16 years and the Senate limit from 8 to 16 years.
It is likely that Regnat Populus and their legislative accomplices expect more than a free limo ride to the 2014 ballot. Nixing the Arkansas term limits law has long been a priority for corporate special interests and they have proven themselves willing to open their wallets to preserve the relationships they have cultivated in Little Rock.
The last time legislators referred an anti-term limits amendment to the ballot was 2004. Citizens hated it (it lost by 70%!), but corporate special interests loved it. In fact, according to FollowTheMoney.org, nearly all the money spent to promote the anti-term limits amendment came from them.
CORPORATE SPECIAL INTERESTS VS. TERM LIMITS 2004
|ARKANSAS FARM BUREAU||$105,841||25.91%||Agriculture|
|ARKANSAS OUTDOOR ADVERTISING ASSOCIATION||$30,000||7.34%||General Business|
|ARKANSAS STATE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE||$26,710||6.54%||General Business|
|ENTERGY||$25,000||6.12%||Energy & Natural Resources|
|ARKANSAS REALTORS ASSOCIATION||$25,000||6.12%||Finance, Insurance & Real Estate|
|STEPHENS GROUP||$15,000||3.67%||Finance, Insurance & Real Estate|
|ARKANSAS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION||$12,500||3.06%||Labor|
|NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION||$12,500||3.06%||Labor|
|ALLTEL CORP||$10,000||2.45%||Communications & Electronics|
|ARKANSAS HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION||$10,000||2.45%||Health|
|UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS FOUNDATION||$10,000||2.45%||Government Agencies/Education/Other|
|ARKANSAS TELECOMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATION||$10,000||2.45%||Communications & Electronics|
|ARKANSAS BAR ASSOCIATION||$7,500||1.84%||Lawyers & Lobbyists|
|ARKANSAS HEALTH CARE ASSOCIATION||$5,000||1.22%||Health|
|ARKANSAS STATE EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION||$5,000||1.22%||Labor|
|WHOLESALE BEER DISTRIBUTORS OF ARKANSAS||$5,000||1.22%||General Business|
|ARKANSAS HOSPITALITY ASSOCIATION||$5,000||1.22%||General Business|
|MCMATH WOODS||$5,000||1.22%||Lawyers & Lobbyists|
|AMERICAN ELECTRIC POWER||$5,000||1.22%||Energy & Natural Resources|
Naturally, special interests can't stand competitive elections and rotation in office, as they raise the cost and reduce the value of the mutually beneficial relationships they must create to succeed in achieving their legislative goals. None of the puny 'ethics' planks in the original bill packs the wallop that term limits do in reducing special interest influence.
But the politicians and interests have also learned the hard way that a frontal assault on term limits is doomed at the ballot box. Hence they have devised a referendum so deceptive that they have hoodwinked and co-opted Regnat Populus along the way. We'll see if voters will be as easily taken for a ride.