- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the state’s highest court Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit challenging her rejection of a ballot measure that would impose new ethics and campaign finance restrictions on elected officials.

Rutledge’s office accused Little Rock attorney David Couch of trying to make the state Supreme Court the “gatekeeper” of initiatives by suing to get the language of his proposed constitutional amendment approved. Rutledge’s certification is required before Couch can begin gathering the nearly 85,000 signatures from registered voters needed to put the proposal on the November ballot.

“Mr. Couch should not be allowed to refuse to even attempt to fix his ballot title and then ask this court to tell the attorney general to fix it for him,” Rutledge’s filing said.

Couch said in his lawsuit, filed last week, that he’s running out of time to meet the July 8 deadline to submit signatures, especially since state law also requires he publish a notice statewide about the proposal by June 8. Rutledge has rejected the wording of the proposal three times.

Couch said he believes he’s filed a fair and impartial summary of his proposal, and that the attorney general is obligated to substitute language if she won’t approve it. Couch has asked the state Supreme Court to order Rutledge to approve the measure or to substitute language to address concerns she’s raised.

“Her job is to either accept mine or to write one and substitute it for mine,” Couch said. “If her interpretation of the law is correct, she could continue to object to my ballot title as misleading 100 times and I would be without recourse.”

Couch’s proposal would expand the state’s ban on lobbyist gifts to elected officials by eliminating exemptions for governmental bodies and travel expenses paid by national or regional organizations. It calls for other new campaign finance restrictions, including a ban on political action committees funded by corporations or limited liability companies. It would also lower the maximum amount a donor can contribute to a candidate from $2,700 to $1,500.


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