Ark. panel: Suspend fundraising ban in House

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas House panel on Thursday recommended allowing representatives to raise campaign funds during this month’s legislative session, expanding on a narrower recommendation last week to just lift the fundraising ban for two members running for Congress.

The House Rules Committee voted to suspend a rule that bars members from raising money during the legislative session set to begin Monday, which is expected to focus primarily on the state’s budget. Suspending the rule will require a two-thirds vote among members present for a caucus meeting before the session convenes that day.

The panel last week had recommended candidates for federal office be exempted but stopped short of lifting or suspending the rule for House members running for state or legislative offices. State Reps Bruce Westerman and Ann Clemmer are both seeking the GOP nomination for Congress in the May 20 primary.

Members of the panel on Thursday objected to that recommendation, saying it was unfair to candidates who weren’t seeking federal office.

“We either all play by the rules, or we don’t,” said Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Morrilton.

The state Senate doesn’t bar its members from raising money during the fiscal session, which is held in even-numbered years and focuses primarily on the state’s budget. This year’s fiscal session will be the third under a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2008 requiring the Legislature to meet and budget annually.

Under the amendment, the fiscal session lasts up to 30 days and can only be extended an additional 15 days if approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate. The filing period for this year’s election begins Feb. 24, and the state’s primary is on May 20.

Rep. Andrea Lea, one of several House members running for statewide office, voted against suspending the rule and said she’d refrain from raising money even if the House lifts the rule. Lea, R-Russellville, is running for state auditor.

“When I made the decision to run for auditor last July, I was fully aware of this rule and knew it was there,” Lea told reporters after the hearing.

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