LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas House panel recommended Wednesday that two members running for Congress be allowed to raise campaign funds during next month's session, but stopped short of calling for an end to the fundraising ban for other representatives.
The House Rules Committee recommended that candidates for federal office be exempted from a prohibition on campaign fundraising during the legislative session, which begins Feb. 10. The exemption, which would not affect House members running for legislative or constitutional offices, must be approved by two-thirds of the House.
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, one of two House members running for Congress this year, had requested clarification from the panel on whether the prohibition applied to federal offices. Westerman, R-Hot Springs, noted a 1996 opinion from the Federal Election Commission that said a similar ban on Georgia legislators couldn't apply to candidates for federal office.
"I thought it would be important to bring this before the committee and ask for a clarification," said Westerman, who is running for south Arkansas' 4th Congressional District.
If approved by the House, the rule change also would exempt state Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, who is running for the 2nd Congressional District in central Arkansas.
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. Darrin Williams initially proposed suspending the fundraising ban entirely when the Legislature convenes Feb. 10, but later withdrew that proposal. Williams, D-Little Rock, noted that the prohibition could put House members running for legislative or constitutional offices at a disadvantage.
"You could have a situation where a House member is running in a state Senate race and has an opponent in the Senate. The opponent who's in the Senate could be raising money and the House member running for the same seat couldn't be raising money," Williams said. "That could be a discriminatory impact."
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