LITTLE ROCK — A nonprofit watchdog group has given Arkansas an F grade for the level of disclosure it requires of outside groups that spend money on elections in the state.
In a report released Thursday, The National Institute on Money in State Politics named Arkansas one of 26 states with disclosure requirements deserving of a failing grade. It gave the state 30 points out of a possible 100.
Fifteen states received an A grade. Six of the failing states — Alabama, Indiana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota and South Carolina — received no points.
“Independent super PACs and nonprofits intent on influencing campaigns proliferated in the wake of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, adding about $1 billion in spending in federal races in the 2012 election cycle,” the report said, referring to the Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited independent expenditures in federal elections.
“At the state level, lavish spending by outside groups often faces weaker disclosure rules than federal contests and receives far less media attention. The result is a mishmash of rules, with some states scrambling to pass legislation in the wake of the high court decision while others show little interest in enacting any changes,” the report said.
The report gave Arkansas 30 points for requiring disclosure of independent expenditures, or political spending in support of or opposition to a candidate but not coordinated with a candidate’s campaign.
It faulted Arkansas for failing to:
—Require disclosure of spending by outside groups on electioneering communications, or advertising shortly before an election that names a candidate but does not urge a vote for or against the candidate.
—Require outside groups to report the targets of independent expenditures and electioneering communications.
—Require outside groups to report their positions, i.e., whether they support oppose the targets of their independent expenditures and electioneering communications.
Graham Sloan, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, said Thursday the institute is correct in saying that Arkansas does not require disclosure of spending on advertising that does not urge a vote for or against a candidate.
“Disclosure’s not required until you have the express advocacy of the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, so you would have to say ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against,’” he said.
Sloan said he was not aware of any past or present efforts in the state to change the law to require expenditure disclosure for advertising that falls short of express advocacy or opposition.
Based on past U.S. Supreme Court rulings, “I don’t know that the government has a sufficient interest to regulate that speech,” he said.
According to the report, 23 states require such disclosure.
“Maybe people are challenging that line,” Sloan said, when told of the report’s findings. “Historically, people did not regulate speech that fell below the level of express advocacy … or defeat of a declared candidate because it was deemed to be violating free speech.”
Sloan said he did not see how the other two categories would apply to Arkansas, since the state only requires disclosure of spending when express advocacy or opposition is involved, and in those cases “it’s apparent on the face of it” what the outside group’s target and position are.